Mormonism’s First-Ever Black African General Authority

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?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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115 Responses to Mormonism’s First-Ever Black African General Authority

  1. It should read – Martin did not act that way.

  2. st.crispin says:

    Michael P.,

    1. Regarding your question: “is there anything specific they (LDS women) must do besides being a bride? (to achieve exaltation)”.

    Yes: 1. Keep the Faith;
    2. Endure to the End.

    2. Judging by your comments it appears that you are not aware of the fact that in the American south many evangelical congregations are segregated along racial lines. Racism is still very prevalent in the south.

    3. You state: “It is easy to look at the history and ignore the present”. Is not this harping on the past (i.e. BY’s comments 150 years ago) precisely what evangelicals on this board are doing when they falsely accuse the LDS Church of institutional racism while at the very same time ignoring the plain fact that the LDS Church today has thousands of missionaries serving in Africa.
    Talk about hypocrisy!

    4. You assert that LDS missionaries are not going to Africa. This again is completely false. There are thousands of LDS missionaries serving in Africa. Every year tens of thousands of black Africans are baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.

    5. So really, the difference between evangelical churches and the LDS Church is that evangelical churches still openly practice racial segregation in their churches in the American south whereas the LDS Church has never been racially segregated.

    6. Thus I reiterate my point: It is hypocrisy in the extreme for evangelicals to claim that the LDS Church today practices “institutionalized racism” when their own sordid history of racial oppression is dripping with the blood of lynched negroes and to this very day many American evangelical churches openly practice racial segregation.

  3. falcon says:

    I found something interesting in an article titled “God’s Avenging Scourge: Nat Turner’s rebelliion, the bloodiest in slave history, was driven by his prophetic visions” For those not familiar with Nat Turner he gathered about 60 slaves and sliced and diced a bunch of white folks. Here’s the interesting part:
    “By the time he was 25, Nat had wrestled many times in the night with the Spirit of his God, the God of his Fathers. He had been pressed especially hard by the words: ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all things shall be added unto you.’ As he attempted to plumb the meaning and mystery of that promise, he had been driven into his own month-long experience of the wilderness, but then had returned to the farm………he saw the promised Kingdom of righteousness as one which would somehow be realized on the very farms and fields of Virginia, a Kingdom in which the power of the slave masters would be broken. What made the vision chilling and exhilarating was his vivid awareness of being a chosen instrument for the bringing in of this Kingdom……..Then in 1825 a clearer vision came: ‘I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened-the thinder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams-and I heard a voice saying, ‘Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bear it.’”
    Fascinating stuff. Nat had visons and had a prophet calling and prophetic words to bring forth. A true Christian mystic right? Here’s my favorite part:
    “Again, one day as he worked in the fields Nat claimed to have ‘discovered drops of blood on the corn as though it were dew from heaven.’ On the leaves of the trees, he said he found ‘hieroglyphic characters, and numbers, with the forms of men…portrayed in blood……the meaning was even clearer in his mind. It signified to Nat that ‘the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth…and was now returning to earth.”

  4. falcon says:

    (cont.)
    Please stay with me. It’s worth it.
    “In the spring of 1828, the fullest description of the Kingdom he sought, and of his own role in its coming, were spoken to Nat’s third ear. On May 12, 1828, Nat said, ‘I heard a loud voice in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it and fight against the serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first.’………As if to clear away any lingering doubt he might have had, Nat heard the spirit’s clear instructions, that at the appearance of the proper sign ‘I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.’
    Well I could go on about the sign he saw in the heavens that prompted the carnage that came next but I won’t. It’s kind of interesting that Nat Turner was a contemporary of Joseph Smith. What are we to make of this black man seeing visions, hearing from God, getting signs? Man, “hieroglyphic characters” appear on the leaves. I’m wondering if they were reformed Egyptian? And we have what basically was “blood atonement”. I wonder if Nat could have been ordained into the Mormon priesthood despite the fact that he was black. Seems to me he was at least as credable as Joseph Smith. I think Nat would meet the Mormon standard for a prophet.
    “Nat Turner went to the gallows on November 11, 1831, refusing to speak any final word to the crowd gathered to see him die, knowing that it was his living which had been his last, best testimony. Then, in its quiet, secret ways, the black community of Virginia and of the nation took his life into its own bosom and pondered it. They continued to see signs, beginning with the day of his execution…..’the sun was hidden behind angry clouds, the thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and the most terrific storm visited that county ever known.’
    (Christian History Is. 62)

  5. “So really, the difference between evangelical churches and the LDS Church is that evangelical churches still openly practice racial segregation in their churches in the American south whereas the LDS Church has never been racially segregated.”

    Which denominations prevent members of certain races from worshipping in their churches? This is a blatant falsehood. Most, if not all, of the racial segregation is self imposed. Honestly, Mormons do not have enough racial diversity to even have this kind of problem.

    “the LDS Church today has thousands of missionaries serving in Africa.”

    Like we don’t? Honestly, this statement is a red herring as the article asked why your church did not evangelize Black Africans prior to 1978. And we are still waiting for an answer.

    We are still waiting for an answer as to why blacks were banned in the first place. Instead of meaningful responses we get canned responses, obfuscation, lies, and the constant Mormon shuffle.

  6. st.crispin says:

    The blatant hypocrisy of evangelicals never ceases to amaze me.

    David Whitsell writes: “Most, if not all, of the racial segregation is self imposed.”

    Racial segregation is self-imposed???

    Please stop the blatant hypocrisy. The simple truth is that white evangelicals do not want blacks sitting in their churches with them because they are racists. Just go down to Mississippi or Georgia, or Alabama and see for yourself. Racism is still rampant in the American south. Just ask any black man from that region.

    David, you are beginning to sound more and more like some White supremacist.

    Your questions have been answered a hundred times.

  7. Michael P says:

    Crispin,

    A) So it would be fair their role is to shut up and be faithful? Is that right?

    B) Who cares that some southern churches are divided on racial lines? A number of other facets need to be looked at. Like, who is segregating? In other words, do these groups choose, on their own, to attend an all black church? Second, you assert it is limited to the south, when in reality black churches are everywhere. For example, look at the Reverend Jeremiah White’s church, in Chicago. You also have to ask what would happen if a white went into one of these churches and vice versa. I doubt they would be met with violence– maybe some uncomfortableness, but that’s it. No one would refuse someone else on the color of their skin. This is what you are trying to portray, and it is patently false.

    Actually, as to the past and the present, you miss the very essense of my point in differenting our stances: historically, blacks were not allowed to be priests and full members of your church and you in fact did not go to Africa until after the ban in question was lifted. This was racist on its face, unless you wish to deny that the ban was based on anything but the color of skin and the assumption that all blacks were doomed because of Cain. And at present, you are forced to deny its racist facial element because it was something deemed as from god by your prophet. Because of that, you cannot say this racially motivated ban was wrong or your faith is undermined.

    Contrast that with tradional faith’s racist past: we a) have said such discrimination was and is wrong and in many, many situations, publically apologized for those wrong beliefs and b) even in the racist times of the past sought to convert the blacks so that at least their souls would be saved.

    So, despite the fact that you have a presence in Africa, you have not apologized and prior to the arrival purposefully stayed away from the region. You rely on a faulty arguments and ignore key facts.

  8. mobaby says:

    Crispin,

    Your charge that David Whitsell “sounds more and more like a White supremacist” is completely unfounded and inflammatory. The unanswered question is why were blacks banned from the Mormon priesthood? Does the LDS leadership believe this was of God? If so, what were the reasons? If not, how can they be prophets of God and not false prophets? Has the Church renounced the basic theology that led to this banning, or is it just not spoken of?

    David is pointing out that slavery and really injustice have been in this world since man’s fall. Protestants did not invent slavery and racism. Many protestants fought against these injustices – so to broad brush all protestants as supportive of these things is wrong, diametrically wrong as can be seen in the lives of the abolitionists. Racial bigotry was not broadly espoused as a THEOLOGICAL truth as it was throughout the LDS religion. Many slaves became Christians, that’s why we have some of the historical gospel songs. Jesus provided the strength they needed – they KNEW they were NOT second class citizens in God’s kingdom. And God did deliver his people and continues to deliver each one of His children through the blood of Christ.

  9. Michael P says:

    Crispin:

    You say this: “So really, the difference between evangelical churches and the LDS Church is that evangelical churches still openly practice racial segregation in their churches in the American south whereas the LDS Church has never been racially segregated.”

    See my above comments for the first part which basically state, in part, that racially divided churches are not isolated to the south and are in fact by choice.

    Second, the LDS church has not been racially segregated, except that blacks could not be priests, ie they were an underclass within the system. So, they could go to your church, but they were limited to what they could do. They weren’t even “separate but equal.” They were clearly not equal at all.

    There is no reason at all to think the subequality was based on anything but racial motives. OK, you say it was from God, but do you really think that was true? Can you really say that simply because of color another was less worthy in the eyes of God, or even think that God would ever, if he is unchanging, say this?

  10. st.crispin says:

    Michael P., Mobaby, David Whitsell and others,

    A few points on the civil history of the United States:

    In the United States racial segregation (whether it be in schools, churches, universities, public libraries, restaurants or wherever) has NEVER, NEVER NEVER been “by choice”. Racial segregation has always occurred because white supremacists have imposed it upon the blacks.

    Blacks have accommodated this gross injustice because for decades to resist racial segregation was to invite vicious beatings at the hands of white supremacists or worse.

    It is an incontrovertible fact that it was the American evangelical churches (Southern Baptists, Methodist Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church of the Confederate states) which openly advocated the defense of slavery and provided the theological, moral and intellectual underpinnings of slavery in the United States. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed over the issue of slavery in 1848 as were Methodist Episcopal Church in 1843 and the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States in 1861.

    It is an inconvertible fact that these same evangelical churches provided the theological, moral and intellectual underpinnings of the Ku Klux Klan and indeed the pastors of these churches provided much of the leadership of the KKK.

    It is an incontrovertible fact that members of these same evangelical churches provided the main body of resistance to the the Civil Rights Act of the 1960′s.

    It is an incontrovertible fact that many of these same evangelical churches openly practice racial segregation to this very day.

    This sordid history is open for any to examine.

    Thus I reiterate my point: It is hypocrisy in the extreme for evangelicals to claim that the LDS Church today practices “institutionalized racism” when their own sordid history of racial oppression is dripping with the blood of lynched negroes and to this very day many American evangelical churches openly practice racial segregation.

  11. I lived in California. I have been to the South several times, and the state I am currently in was a former slave state. I once had a Black, U.S. Air Force Chaplin tell me that California is more racist than the South. My experience confirms what he said. Racism is alive everywhere (if you think racism is bad here go to Asia).

    Polarization (self imposed segregation) is something that afflicts every group. Go to any military dinning hall and see the polarization that takes place . . . and the DoD is the most politically correct place on the planet. I can tell you many Evangelical groups, like Promise Keepers, have done alot to break down those walls. Your charge of racism reeks of desperation.

    “The simple truth is that white evangelicals do not want blacks sitting in their churches with them because they are racists.”

    And you know this how? Again I ask the question – Which denominations prevent members of certain races from worshipping in their churches? If you really can read minds do your country a favor and let any number of its security agencies know. I have been to the South and yes racism is there but I have been places where it is much more prevalent (like Northern Idaho). Your charge is a tad racist in itself. Are you suggesting Black men are not capable of racism?

    No, my questions have not been answered a hundred times. I will let the readers view the record and decide for themselves. Do you care to take back the quote you attributed to me? You love to cry “hypocrisy” yet you have not even had the decency to be honest here. Again let the readers decide.

    The hypocrisy you display, I would not attribute you behavior to all Mormons, is that your church once had a policy that barred men of color from the priesthood. Nobody is denying that here, yet you say Evangelicals are racist (and hypocritical) even though we have no such policy.

    St. crispin, I am trying to elevate the tone of the conversation here. Can you help me?

  12. St. crispin,

    Where are the myriads of blacks that want to join predominately white evangelical churches? Where are the churches that are preventing said blacks from joining?

    If the Southern Baptist convention was formed over the issue of slavery, then what say of the American Baptists? Or how about the other Protestants that were not for slavery or even against it? Where is the Mormon version of William Wilburforce, David Livingston, or even John Brown?

    Your characterizations of history and Evangelical churches are so grose you have created a straw-man. If what you have displayed is not religious bigotry I do not what is.

    Do you care to move beyond the mischaracterizations, canned responses, lies, and obfuscation, or is that the only way you know how to defend your faith?

  13. Michael P says:

    St. Crispin,

    I agree with David in that you are now grasping at straws. Any honest look at the history and current state of race relations shows that there is indeed a tendnacy for like groups to stay together, and for racism to go both ways. Just one example destroys your position, so I present two: the Black Panthers, and Obama’s old church led by Jeremiah Wright.

    And for whatever it is worth, my old church outside of DC, McLean Bible Church works a lot with many black churches in town and even has several ministries poor areas, such as a ministry called the House. In fact, several guest pastors are black, and they are always more than welcomed.

    In short, your theory falls very short of credibility.

    I’ve also noticed that you have not addressed the claims against your church. Rather, you seek to tear down ours. Your focus on traditional Chrisianity’s racist past. That we have acknowledged this is true speaks volumes to the difference in our our faith and yours.

    You continue to drive home our racist past without addressing yours. Why is that?

    And others have also stated how many Christians were actually leaders in abolitionist and more currently in the civil rights movement. Your assertion all Christians were racist is grossly inaccurate.

  14. st.crispin says:

    David Whitsell,

    Everything I have written concerning the history of “institutional racism” of certain evangelical churches is true and easily verifiable. The simple incontrovertible fact is that slavery was widespread in the American south for almost two centuries. This institution of slavery was aided and abetted by the evangelical community of the south in as much as it was the American evangelical churches (Southern Baptists, Methodist Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church of the Confederate states) which openly advocated the defense of slavery and provided the theological, moral and intellectual underpinnings of slavery in the United States.

    The aftermath of this racism is still rampant in many parts of the south. Just ask any black man living in the south.

    Your warped denial and whitewashing of this sordid history makes you sound like some holocaust denier (of which there are plenty in the evangelical crowd).

    Your vicious and ignorant attacks on the LDS Church and its people betrays a mean-spirited malevolence. It is you who is being a hypocrite when you charge that the LDS Church today practices “institutional racism”.

    At every turn you have deliberately mischaracterized the LDS faith with blatant lies and obfuscation

    I throw back in your face your own words:
    “Do you care to move beyond the mischaracterizations, canned responses, lies, and obfuscation, or is that the only way you know how to defend your faith?”

  15. Michael P says:

    St. Crispin,

    There is absolutely no substance in your last post.

    No one disputes a racist aspect in our history. Do you understand that? Not one of us says that Chrstians have never been racist or that racism is not a part of our past.

    What we do say is that we have very much moved beyond that, even if there are still the kooks out there who still retain those racist beliefs. We also say that despite those Christians who were racist, there are many who sought to get rid of racism and slavery.

    No one is white washing anything.

    But we are also addressing the problematic bans on blacks getting the priesthood in your faith, which is something you are not addressing.

    Perhaps I missed something, but I do not think anyone has said that you are any more racist NOW than anyone else. Rather, the focus is on the past, a past that your faith leaves great doubt as to its clean hands on racism.

    If we are deliberately mischaracterizing your faith with blatant lies and obfuscation, please address specifically where we are wrong, why it is wrong, and what is correct.

    I’ll ask a point blank question that you can start your defense with: was the ban on blacks being given priesthood because of the Seed of Cain an incorrect doctrine and was your church wrong to follow it?

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