The primary mission for Mormon missionaries is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to people they meet on a day-to-day basis. The actual teaching of the gospel is not only done through conversations with people they meet while proselyting or teaching lessons in someone’s home, but oftentimes the gospel is taught through their acts of service for those in need. As they go forth doing the work that the Lord has called them to do, the question that they repeatedly ask themselves is not, “What would Jesus Do?” but rather, “What would Jesus have me to do?”
Teaching the Gospel through Community Service
After a recent flooding in Houston, Texas, Mayor Annise Parker included missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of the Houston Volunteer Disaster Assistance Initiative which was launched on 29 May 2015 to assist in helping residents recover and prepare for anticipated emergencies. Mayor Parker commented:
When disaster strikes, the city’s immediate focus is on responding to major public needs such as infrastructure and safety. We have not had a system in place to support the efforts of volunteer organizations which are willing and able to assist individuals, but need help identifying those most vulnerable. With hurricane season days away, we have an opportunity to develop and test a system, while helping our residents recover from this week’s flooding.
From the calls that were received through the city’s 311 line, Housing and Community Development Department (HCDD) employees and Mormon missionaries were able to canvass Houston neighborhoods to identify flood victims, in particular elderly and disabled, who desperately needed help cleaning up after the disaster. With the ability to speak both English and Spanish, most of the missionaries were able to communicate with most people they met.
Fortunately, the flooding was confined to a limited number of residential areas, however, the amount of work involved in restoring homes that were affected was enormous. One of the main concerns was that the flood waters contained such foreign matters as chemicals for industrial facilities, pesticides from lawns, bacteria and mold spores, which meant that everything that was touched by the waters was contaminated. Waterproof gloves and masks were used during the restoration efforts. After contaminated items were removed from the homes, and all floor coverings were removed, concrete floors were then treated with bleach.
Pam Keller, a teacher and a resident of southwest Houston recounted her experience:
My neighbor called me at 1:45 a.m. to ask if I had water in my house. I ran out and saw water coming across the carpet. Ten minutes later it was up to my knees. After the flood waters receded, I just sat and looked around for about two hours in a state of shock. Then I got to thinking about all the work there was to be done and all the loss.
A neighbor told her about Mormons who would come and help. When her doorbell rang and she saw a group of people standing there ready and willing to help, she remarked, “It’s just fabulous and Christ-sent … very supportive and loving.”
It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who said, “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.” And Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” stated:
In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.
There are things in all of our histories that we may wish we could change, but alas we are powerless to turn back the hands of time and make those changes ourselves. What we can do, however, is learn from our past. We can learn from the examples of our forefathers, who though life may not have been the best for them at times, traversed many trails of tears and still pressed forward with every ounce of strength and courage that they could muster to blaze trails of hope, and to build bridges to a brighter tomorrow for those who would come after them.
Emancipation of Slaves and the Freedmen’s Bureau
The Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on 1 January 1863. It changed the legal status, as recognized by the United States federal government, of 3 million slaves in the designated areas of the South from “slave” to “free.” It was issued as a war measure during the American Civil War, directed to all of the areas in rebellion and all segments of the executive branch, including the Army and Navy, of the United States. It also proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion, and thus applied to more than 3 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. at the time. The abolition of slavery in Texas, however, did not occur until two years later, on 19 June 1865, when a Union General in Galveston, Texas, read aloud the contents of “General Order No. 3,” which proclaimed the total emancipation of slaves.
The Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, which established the Freedmen’s Bureau on 3 March 1865, was initiated by President Abraham Lincoln and was intended to last for one year after the end of the Civil War. It was established to aid “freedmen” (freed slaves) in 15 states and the District of Columbia during the Reconstruction era of the United States. The Bureau was made a part of the United States Department of War and was given the authority to help African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It also arranged to teach them to read and write, which was considered critical by the freedmen themselves, as well as the government, by opening schools. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau also managed hospitals, and encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations and urged freed Blacks to gain employment. All the while, the Bureau kept a watchful eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and encouraged both Whites and Blacks to work together as employers and employees, instead of masters and slaves.
Freedmen’s Bureau Project Announced
On Friday, 19 June 2015 (“Juneteenth”), the 150th celebration of Emancipation Day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch International, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Church, and African-American history organizations, announced the joint Freedmen’s Bureau Project which will release 1.5 million digitized hand-written records that contain the names of up to 4 million former slaves collected by agents of the Freedman’s Bureau at the end of the Civil War.
The project, which is a partnership between Family Search, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum, was announced at a press conference held in the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, California. It will make the records available for free online at a new website, discoverfreedmen.org. The press conference, hosted by Jermaine and Kembe Sullivan, who were featured in the 2014 movie “Meet the Mormons,” was streamed live online and included simultaneous gatherings at 31 other locations, including the Underground Railroad Museum and the National Civil War Museum.
Release of Records Reveal Critical Links to the Past
According to Deseret News, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ stated during his remarks that the Freedmen’s Bureau records have the potential to help “reunite the black family that was once torn apart by slavery.” Rev. Cecil L. Murray of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California in his remarks emphasized that “freedmen” (freed slaves) “would not have had any place to stay, any place to sleep, or any food to eat had it not been for the concept of the Freedmen’s Bureau.”
The Freedmen’s Bureau records contain information about former slaves such as marriages, military pensions, and labor contracts and trials that would have otherwise been lost forever. Paul Nauta, spokesman for FamilySearch, commented:
African-Americans who tried to research their family history before 1870 hit a brick wall because before 1870 their ancestors who were slaves and showed up as ticks or hash marks on paper. They didn’t have a name. The slave master would just have tick marks.
With the availability of these valuable records, people like Houston minister Monique Lampkin who has long yearned to know more about her roots will be able to learn the names of those ancestors who were emancipated slaves in 1865 and their contributions.
Using the Freedmen’s Bureau records in conjunction with the Freedmen’s Bank records, minister Lampkin and her mother were able to discover vital information which they consider “sacred and priceless” in a child support document, a request for wages due, a character reference and in additional information about family residences. And now, with these records being made available online, African-Americans will have a vast library of information from which to draw, thus providing a vital link to their past which will enable them to learn more about their family and where they came from.
Hollis Gentry from the Smithsonian commented that the records will do more than just connect Black families of the present with their family members of the past:
I predict we’ll see millions of living people find living relatives they never knew existed. That will be a tremendous blessing and a wonderful, healing experience. These records were created when these people were alive and immediately after they were freed. You get a sense of them, of their hopes and dreams.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a family-oriented people. They understand the value and importance of home and family life, and believe that families are forever. The valuable life lessons that are learned in a loving home, for example, help to prepare youth to more easily transition into the real world where they will be faced with day-to day challenges. It is also within the family that each member of the family learns to love others as Heavenly Father loves each of us.
Research Shows Mormons Have Larger Families
The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study reported that Latter-day Saints marry more than those in any other American faith. According to the report, 66 percent of LDS adults are married as compared to 60 percent for Hindis, and 56 percent for Jews. The study also found that Mormons have the largest families.
The Pew Research Center interviewed more than 35,000 Americans allowing for a margin of error of plus or minus 0.6 percent. The new study revealed that for Mormons between the ages of 40 and 59, the average number of children born to them is 3.4. According to an article from Deseret News, “The idea behind looking at that age group is to capture what the researchers called “completed fertility.”” The average for LDS births was well above other groups such as historically Black Protestant churches where the average number of births is 2.5, and for Catholics and Evangelicals, the average is 2.3.
The study further revealed that the Christian population, in particular among the mainline Protestants and Catholics, in the U.S. has declined from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014. However, as the study showed, LDS Church members have held steady with 1.6 percent of the rising U.S. population in 2014, as compared to 1.7 percent in 2007. David Campbell, co-author of “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us” commented, “It’s also striking, and you see this in other national studies, that the percentage of Mormons doesn’t really change, and that’s interesting.”
The Central Role of Marriage and Family in the Church
The findings of the report align with the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ as Latter-day Saints believe parents are co-creators with God, and that families are central to God’s plan. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught, “The home is the center core of the LDS Church, and the most sacred relationships in the church are in the family.” During the 185th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in April 2015, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
God ordained that men and women should marry and give birth to children, thereby creating, in partnership with God, the physical bodies that are key to the test of mortality and essential to eternal glory with Him.
The percentage of Mormons who are married has decreased since 2007 when the percentage of those married was 71 percent, and the percentage of Mormons who have never married has increased from 12 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2014. However, the Mormons who were surveyed, stated that they are raising more children than members of any other religious groups. On the average, Mormon adults of all ages also reported that they lived with 1.1 children as parents or guardians.
Mormon Retention Rates Attributed to Family Life
Retention rates are also attributed to healthy family lives. The study showed that historically Black Protestant churches retain 70 percent of its childhood members, whereas Evangelicals retain 65 percent, and Mormons retain 64 percent. However, those who leave the Black Protestant churches or the Evangelical churches often become affiliated with another religion, whereas those who were raised in The Church of Jesus Christ, often do not become members of a different religion if they leave the Church.
Campbell, also the co-author of “Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics,” commented that he expects to see the number of Mormons as a percentage of the U.S. population rise based on church growth data. He also noted that it might be a sign of a potential issue with convert retention, stating that, “It’s significant it’s not dropping, but it’s not growing anywhere near the extent that you might think.” In the footnotes of Elder Quentin L. Cook’s April 2015 General Conference address he notes, “Over the last 25 years, the actual number of members leaving the church has decreased and the church has almost doubled in size. The percentage leaving is greatly reduced.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exists to help families to obtain eternal blessings, the greatest of which is the ability to one day return home to Heaven to live with Heavenly Father and their families.
Matthew Scott Holland, the son of Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Patricia Terry, was born in 1966 and raised in the Utah Valley where both Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University are located. He graduated from Provo High School in Provo, Utah, and earned the rank of Eagle Scout from the Boy Scouts of America in 1980. He graduated from Brigham Young University with honors in 1991, and was valedictorian for the political science department. Also in 1991, he was awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Scholarship for a year of graduate study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from Duke University.
He currently serves as the sixth President of Utah Valley University, a position that he has held since June 2009. His father, Jeffrey R. Holland, served as the ninth President of Brigham Young University. Political science has always been his strong suit, and before coming to Utah Valley University to serve as President, he was an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University where he taught courses in political philosophy and American political thought. Recently, in honor of the Sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address (4 March 1865), he presented a public discourse.
Lincoln’s second inaugural address, 150 years old today, is as pertinent as ever. It reminds us that we must resist the poisonous temptation to see those with whom we disagree as bitter enemies even as we vigorously defend the moral truths that ought to guide our public life.
One hundred and fifty years ago, on Saturday, 4 March 1865, President Abraham Lincoln stood on the eastern portico of the U.S. Capitol and delivered his Second Inaugural address. His speech which consisted of 703 words has been referred to as a “theologically intense speech” and has been widely acknowledged as one of the most remarkable documents in American history. Holland notes that even Fredrick Douglass, who was not a particular supporter of Lincoln, referred to the speech as a “sacred effort.” It is recorded that the London Spectator said of it,
We cannot read it without a renewed conviction that it is the noblest political document known to history, and should have for the nation and the statesmen he left behind him something of a sacred and almost prophetic character.
Journalist Noah Brooks, who was present at the time of the speech stated that the audience received the speech in “profound silence.” Albeit, he further notes, some passages were acknowledged with cheers and applause, and moist eyes and tearful faces were noticed among the crowd.
Holland pointed out in his remarks that “Lincoln himself acknowledged it was filled with ‘lots of wisdom’ and predicted it would ‘wear as well as—perhaps even better than—anything I have produced.’ It is noted that Brooks further commented:
But chiefly memorable in the mind of those who saw that second inauguration must still remain the tall, pathetic, melancholy figure of the man who, then inducted into office in the midst of the glad acclaim of thousands of people, and illumined by the deceptive brilliance of a March sunburst, was already standing in the shadow of death.
Brooks was referring to Lincoln’s assassination which occurred on the evening of Friday, 14 April 1865, just six short weeks after he had delivered a timely speech which was then considered to be, and has since proven to have been, prophetic in nature.
When Lincoln stepped forward to speak on that momentous morning, the gray overcast skies were suddenly illuminated by a brilliant ray of sunshine. Chief Justice Chase, as well as many other spectators, saw it as “an auspicious omen of the dispersion of the clouds of war and the restoration of the clear sunlight of prosperous peace.” Although there were several reasons for such an interpretation including the sense that the Civil War was finally drawing to an end, as Lincoln spoke, he did not appear to be overly optimistic about the future. He concluded his speech that day with these words:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Holland further notes in his discourse:
Twenty-seven years before this singular moment, in one of his very first speeches as a young, aspiring politician, Lincoln had argued that the greatest threat to the survival of the American republic would never be foreign invasion. Rather, it would come from internal challenges connected to “the deep rooted principle of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge” that so often lurk in our human nature. If ever there was a moment in our history when the acids of hatred and revenge were at a rolling boil, it was 150 years ago today. Never before, or since, has the country come anywhere close to the massive destruction of life, limb, and brotherly love caused by the Civil War. Yet there Lincoln stood, speaking more like a prophet or priest than a political-military leader on a wartime footing, giving voice to a nation that would suppress the very natural response of hatred and revenge in favor of a profound and active love for “all.” Such words in such a situation were without precedent in history.
Lincoln realized that it was Not His War
By his extensive reading of scripture and long reflection, Lincoln came to conclude that God was both in control of human affairs and ultimately indecipherable by mere mortals. It is perhaps this view of God’s active role in the affairs of unknowing men that best explains why Lincoln was so resolute and scrupulous to avoid prematurely predicting an end to the Civil War conflict given the facts of 4 March 1865. Lincoln realized that he could not be an arbitrator of a war that was not his to arbitrate. Holland further comments:
If the war was, in fact, a punishment to “both North and South” from God for two and half centuries of either practicing or abetting slavery—something the mere human Lincoln could only surmise but not emphatically declare—then it just might be the case that more divine justice was to be exacted and the war would continue.
He further exhorts that although we should love one another, and treat one another with dignity and respect, as Lincoln also believed, we should exercise caution to avoid misreading or misinterpreting what Lincoln was alluding to in his Second Inaugural address, whereby we may inadvertently reduce his timely speech to nothing more than a “crude postmodernism simply spruced up in religious garb.”
Holland continued by saying,
In the very same breath that Lincoln calls forth a supreme spirit of charity for all, he presses the North to act “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,” striving “to finish the work we are in.” The work, of course, is the work of war—a war that began as an effort to save the Union, but which by Gettysburg had been transformed into an effort to give a “new birth” of liberty to “all men.
By Lincoln’s reckoning, it may have been impossible to know God’s “own purposes” in full, but there was a discernibly right answer in the conflict over slavery. Thus, just as the practice of love was clearly the obligation of those who would follow the God of the Bible, so too was a vigilant defense of the notion that all individuals are, by nature, equals, entitled to rule over themselves and not be ruled by others but by their consent.
Lessons Learned from Lincoln’s Words
It is a certainty that the very fibers that bind the fabric which holds our great nation together are being ripped apart by the malevolent ideologies, cultural discord, and religious indifference that continue to plague our nation like a growing cancer.
However, a careful reading of Lincoln’s immortal words reveals that he was not asking for a complete surrender of a commitment to moral truths, but rather he was emphasizing that moral truths do exist, and if we are to survive as a nation, we must make a concerted effort to understand those moral truths which are the foundation upon which the pillars of our nation rests, and let those moral truths be a beacon to us in our daily living. We must not only stand firm on these truths, but if necessary, we must be prepared to preserve them through the giving of our own lives.
Lincoln’s words also remind us that if we yield to the temptation to merely view those with whom we have disagreements as our mortal enemies, we do so at the risk of putting our nation in jeopardy.
At the close of his First Inaugural address he had declared, “We must not be enemies, but friends.” His sentiments align with the words of the Savior who taught us:
But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45).
Holland concludes his discourse:
If Lincoln was right, then one of the chief tasks for today’s citizens and civic leaders is to see that, while our passionate disagreements over public principles may sometimes strain, they must not be allowed to “break the bonds of our affection.”
The phrase “Mormon Moment” is not new to many of us. Anyone who followed the 2012 presidential elections became very familiar with this catchphrase. With the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, being a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many people became keenly interested in Mormonism, a religion that beforehand had been somewhat of a mystery to many people.
However, it should be carefully noted that a Mormon running for the office of President of the United States was not the only reason that interest in Mormonism had suddenly escalated. The critically acclaimed satirical musical “The Book of Mormon” — the story of two young Mormon missionaries sent to a remote village in northern Uganda where a brutal warlord threatens the local population — opened on Broadway in March 2011, and it achieved immense popularity in a relatively short amount of time. The show set records in ticket sales for the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. It was also awarded nine Tony Awards, one of which was for Best Musical, and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
These two major events sparked the interest of the masses, and the phrase “Mormon Moment” soon became the buzzword of the day in both local and social media coverage. However, now that Mitt Romney is no longer running for President of the United States, and “The Book of Mormon” musical is no longer winning awards, it would almost appear that the spotlight of the “Mormon Moment” has suddenly faded. But, is that really the case?
Black Mormons and the “Black Mormon Moment”
Two years after Mitt Romney was defeated in the presidential elections by Barack Obama, Mia Love, the former mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, became the first black female Republican ever elected to Congress.
According to the 17 November 2014 online edition of Deseret News, the 38-year-old Love commented in her victory speech, “Many of the naysayers out there said that Utah would never elect a black Republican LDS woman to Congress. Not only did we do it, we were the first to do it.” With her victory, an astute focus has once again been turned to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the “Mormon Moment” seems to have been revitalized, but this time, it is black members of The Church of Jesus Christ who are at the forefront.
Parker is also the seventh teenager in the last 30 years to have one double-double in his first three league outings. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ may recall that President Thomas S. Monson quoted Parker during General Conference this year citing the advice that he had been given by his father: “Just be the same person you are in the dark that you are in the light.”
Another prominent black Mormon is 25-year-old Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah from Accra, Ghana. As a boy in his native country, Ziggy played soccer and basketball and had absolutely no knowledge of American football. After converting to the Mormon faith, and being baptized at the age of 18 on 12 January 2008 in Madina, Ghana, he later came to the United States and attended school at Brigham Young University. It was there that Ziggy got his first taste of American football. After two and a half seasons, he was picked No. 5 overall in the NFL draft. He was also voted the Mel Farr Rookie of the Year by the Detroit Lions. Of particular interest is that the school motto of the Presbyterian Boys’ Secondary School, Legon, where Ziggy attended in Ghana, is “In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen” (In Thy Light We Shall See Light). He is indeed a living witness and testimony of that school motto as he has embraced the Light – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and has allowed the Light within him to radiate throughout the world.
The spotlight is also shared by world renowned entertainer Gladys Knight who became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997. She celebrates the success of being on the charts for her Top Gospel Albums. Her latest project, titled “Where My Heart Belongs,” released by the Mormon-label, Shadow Mountain, is a testimony of her life. The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ has brought great peace and joy into her life – a peace that passes all understanding – that is evidenced as people notice the new radiance about her.
The Contribution of Black Mormons and the Growth of the Church
Latter-day Saints comprise less than 2 percent of the U.S. population with the exact number of black Latter-day Saints being unknown. However, in the state of Utah, where 60 percent of the population is Mormon, blacks make up less than 2 percent. Nevertheless, whether the current “moment” is dubbed as the “Black Mormon Moment” or not, the fact remains that the number of high achievers within The Church of Jesus Christ who are black is on the increase.
The short list of those who are high achievers includes, but is not limited to, Harvard-educated Kenyan-American Shaka M. Kariuki, who runs the investment firm Kuramo Capital; Yeah Samake, the Malian mayor who has run for president of Mali twice; Cathy Stokes, the former Illinois public health administrator who became a prominent Utah community leader; and Alex Boyé “whose cover of a popular Disney tune garnered more views on YouTube (54 million) than Coldplay’s latest hit,” according to the Deseret News article.
One person who commented on the Deseret News article stated:
I am incredibly pleased to note that there are so many examples of people in the LDS church who would formerly have been shunned or somehow excluded by some other members of the church but are excelling and, presumably, feeling accepted as fellow children of the same Heavenly parents. I hope it continues in and out of the church for people of African descent and everyone else.
I grew up in a part of Salt Lake that was as racially integrated as it could be in a city that was overwhelmingly Caucasian. It wasn’t until I was about 11 that I had any idea that racial discrimination even existed. I have been yearning for the day it no longer does every day since. It’s great to see these examples of steps toward that dream.
The fact is that black Latter-day Saints, whether famous or not, are contributing in monumental ways to the faith, all the while impacting the world for good. Even in light of perhaps not so favorable Church history dating from 1848 until June 1978 when men of African lineage were not allowed to hold the Priesthood, black membership in the Church has continued to grow. The Deseret News article points out:
There may be some differences between members of the Church because of heritage, culture, and background, but the reality is that we are all children of the same Heavenly Father, and therefore, we are brothers and sisters. We are all working towards the same goal of one day returning to live in His presence for all eternity. Therefore, whether the “moment” is simply dubbed the “Mormon Moment,” the “Black Mormon Moment,” or whatever the title that is chosen, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we all share in the “moment” because we don’t allow our differences to divide us, but rather we stand united as one big family.
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