Marvin Perkins says God led him to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but friends advised otherwise.
"Mormons, they’re prejudiced against blacks," Perkins recalls being told.
Until 1978, the LDS Church banned black men from its priesthood, a position open to nearly all Mormon males and the gateway to sacramental and leadership roles. The church had also barred black men and women from temple ceremonies that promised access in the afterlife to the highest heaven.
As he explored joining the church in 1988, Perkins said he asked Mormons near his Los Angeles home about the racial doctrines. They gently explained that blacks were the cursed descendants of Cain, the biblical murderer, he recalls.
"Let’s say you have this powerful witness of God telling you that this church is truly of him," said the 48-year-old salesman and video producer. "And then the people in that church lovingly tell you that you are cursed. How do you reconcile those two things?"
Perkins says Mormon leaders couldn’t offer an answer.
The LDS Church has neither formally apologized for the priesthood ban nor publicly repudiated many of the theories used to justify it for more than 125 years.
Perkins and other black Mormons say the church’s silence not only irks many blacks, but could also become a loud distraction for the nation’s most prominent Mormon: Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.
"Right now is a great opportunity for the church to say, ‘Let’s clear the air once and for all,’ " said Darron Smith, co-editor of the book Black and Mormon and a sociologist at Wichita State University in Kansas. "But they won’t do it. And that’s going to put reasonable doubt in people’s minds about Romney and the church."
"The curse of Cain" » The LDS Church is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar campaign to highlight its growing diversity. In billboards, online ads and TV commercials, Latinos, Asians and blacks alike assert, "I’m a Mormon."
But the church remains overwhelmingly white in the U.S. A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that blacks comprise just 1 percent of the nearly 6 million Mormons nationwide.
LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy said Mormonism is growing in Africa and in racially diverse communities in the U.S. and Latin America.
God rejects "none who come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female," Purdy said in a statement, quoting the Book of Mormon. "Just as God loves all of his children, wants what is best for them, and considers them as equals, so does the church."
But many blacks perceive the LDS Church as racist, said Perkins and Smith. Neither was surprised to hear a black pastor in Florida who supports Rick Santorum’s campaign raise the racial charge recently.
"Blacks are not going to vote for anyone of the Mormon faith," the Rev. O’Neal Dozier told The Palm Beach Post on Jan. 22. "The Book of Mormon says the Negro skin is cursed."
The Book of Mormon says no such thing. But another Mormon scripture, the Pearl of Great Price, says, "blackness came upon" Cain’s descendants, who were "despised among all people."
Among Cain’s heirs was Noah’s son, Ham, who was "cursed ... as pertaining to the priesthood," according to the scripture. Mormons trace their priesthood to Adam and Noah.
"The faith of my fathers" » Questions about Mormonism’s racial history also arose during Romney’s first White House run.
In a 2007 "Meet the Press" interview, Tim Russert noted that Romney was 31 when the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978. "Didn’t you think, ‘What am I doing [as] part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?’ " Russert asked.
"I’m very proud of my faith, and it’s the faith of my fathers," Romney answered. "And I’m not going to distance myself from my faith in any way."
But Romney also said that he had been "anxious to see a change in my church" and recalled weeping when he heard that the ban had been lifted.Next Page >
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