Gladys Knight, Alex Boyé, other black voices to headline LDS Church gala celebrating end to Mormon priesthood ban

(Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP) Gladys Knight performs onstage at the 2018 Pre-Grammy Gala And Salute To Industry Icons at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, in New York.

Black Mormon choirs and speakers will raise their voices June 1 at the Conference Center in a grand commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the end to the LDS Church’s long-standing ban on black men and boys being ordained to its all-male priesthood and on females entering its temples.

“I am looking forward to this great celebration of freedom from an erroneous teaching and policy,” said Alice Faulkner Burch, president of the all-female LDS Relief Society at Genesis, a support group for black Mormons.

It is a significant move for the LDS black community to gather with other members of the Utah community, Burch said, to recognize “the strength, courage and faith of our black LDS ancestors and the resilience and faith of the successive black community.”

Darius Gray, one of the Genesis founders, said the forthcoming gala will be “remarkable.”

“I am surprised and overcome with joy at what is about to occur,” Gray said Wednesday. “Hopefully, it will aid in the healing of wounds of division that have long existed.”

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Darius Gray, former president of the Genesis Group, a support group for black Mormons, Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Midvale.

In June 1978, then-LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball, seen by Mormons as God’s prophet, announced that the faith’s all-male priesthood would now be open to “all worthy male members.”

It marked a monumental moment in Mormon history, ushering in an unprecedented era of expansion for the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“For me,” former church President Gordon B. Hinckley said on the day’s 10th anniversary, “it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his brethren.”

Since then, Mormonism has spread exponentially in areas formerly off limits, especially Africa. In Europe, many of those willing to listen to LDS missionaries are African immigrants. And the church is growing in urban America, home to millions of African-Americans.

Membership also has jumped in the Caribbean and Brazil, where much of the population has African ancestors.

Some argue that it was Brazil that pushed Kimball to seek a divine response to what was considered a racist policy.

Through the centuries, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Indian, African and Asian bloodlines crossed and commingled endlessly in South America‘s largest nation. It may have been that genealogical brew, more than than the U.S. civil rights movement, that helped lift the ban.

In December 2013, the LDS Church published an essay disavowing the theological theories advanced to justify the former priesthood prohibition.

The June 1 event in downtown Salt Lake City is sponsored by the church’s governing First Presidency under the theme “Be One,” the faith said in a news release. It will feature a message from one of those top LDS leaders as well as stories of faith and music from Mormon convert Gladys Knight, Alex Boyé, the Bonner family, the Unity Gospel Choir International and members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Alex Boye and The Unity Gospel Choir perform as the torch is lit during the 36th annual Stadium of Fire at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, July 2, 2016.

In the Bible, Jesus tells believers to “be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine,” the release said. “ … While the June celebration will hail the history of black Mormon pioneers and reaffirm the reality that ‘all are alike unto God’ in his global family, the event is intended to be much more than a celebration. It will also be a renewal of our collective commitment to pursue oneness in our relationships with each other and with heaven.”

Senior apostle M. Russell Ballard said in 2017 that “we need to embrace God’s children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism and nationalism.”

Ballard added: “Let it be said that we truly believe the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ are for every child of God.”

During the same General Conference, another apostle, Quentin L. Cook, also condemned racism.

“Anyone who claims superiority under the [God’s] plan because of characteristics like race, sex, nationality, language or economic circumstances,” Cook said, “is morally wrong and does not understand the Lord’s true purpose for all of our father’s children.”

“Be One” celebration<br>When • June 1, 7:30 p.m.<br>Where • LDS Conference Center, 60 North Temple St.<br>Tickets • Free upon reserve at BeOne.lds.org.