By Adia J. Olguin
As many know there have been some changes made to the temple ceremony recently. Generally the consensus has been that these changes have been long overdue and are a giant leap in the right direction. However, an observation that I have made is that while so many, women especially, are ecstatic about these changes, they are still dealing with pain in regards to the old practices.
As a black woman it’s been VERY interesting to watch everyone’s responses to the temple changes, to say the least. But there was something that I found so interesting. On more than one occasion someone mentioned not receiving an apology for the years of trauma. For no acknowledgement of the pain and suffering caused by the language of the temple, or the practices therein, etc. There has been discussion of how traumatizing the past procedures were, and how it is hurtful that these changes have not been acknowledged on a larger scale. That there’s been no apology, and how it does not erase the years, and in some cases decades, and even generations of hurt that was endured because of past practices. This brings us to a discussion of intersectionality. These feelings many are having are the same as what black members, particularly black women, have been feeling since day one as members of the church, but in regards to race and racism. But we’ve been told to move on, that there’s no racism now, etc.
For decades it was taught from the pulpit that black people were cursed. That they were unworthy. That they were inherently bad, and less than the white members. This has bled into the teachings in the members homes, how they approached missionary work and so forth. My own father began meeting with the missionaries in 1981, after the ban was lifted, but was told by the white, male missionaries, that he could get baptized, but wouldn’t really be able to progress, because he was black. He did not get baptized. Nor did my white mother. It was not until more than twenty years later that I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Shortly after I served my own mission, and was told by my zone leader how all the black people would be made white in Heaven, and also some choice thoughts on how affirmative action ruined America (even though the group that benefited most from affirmative action, was actually white women and not Black people, as many seem to think.) Now, more than a decade later, I have been called the Devil, and told how I was the worst member of my ward, any time I try to address the past and acknowledge the pain our our shared Latter-day Saint history.
My own personal history proves that while a a practice may change, that does not automatically change the hearts and minds of those that were taught otherwise for generations. That just as those hurtful doctrines were taught from the pulpit, the new procedures and doctrines need to be taught from the pulpit, and stressed, and explained why they were needed and important. A steady effort to heal the past has to take place, otherwise it will continue business as usual.
I invite you to think about the fact that even though this may feel like a step forward you are still able to feel hurt by the past, suffer repercussions from the past, and deal with people that will continue to maintain past language and practices despite the fact that changes have been made. Because that’s what it’s like for black members. Sure they lifted the priesthood ban in the 70s but each and every single black American member is still affected by those practices. Most of us have been told the same lies of how we’ll be white in heaven, or how we must have sinned in the pre-existence, etc. We are treated as outsiders and assumed investigators no matter how long we’ve been members. I have friends that have been temple workers, and have been questioned, INSIDE the temple, about whether or not they belong there. I have never gone to the Mesa Easter pageant, gone to the visitors center, and not been assumed to be an investigator. Every time I step into a new chapel, I am asked if I am investigator, and always get to witness the shock when I say that I am a member, especially if I’m moving into the ward. While not all black American saints experience what I have experienced, my observation has been, that the majority do.
Some of you may be thinking , but what about the Be One Celebration?! Let’s be clear. That happened because a group of black women organized an event honoring past, present, and future BLDS saints. And it was a success so they brought it to Utah. The brethren then hijacked the event and took minimal direction from the original organizers. Ignoring their ideas and suggestions and having the event on Brigham Young’s birthday. To top it off it was poorly advertised, and many people did not even know it was happening to begin with. That event wasn’t for us (us being black saints). For many of us we were happy to see some kind of representation, but still reminded of how no one really wants to address the church’s history of racism and exclusion towards black members, and how we can move forward and create space for all of Heavenly Father’s children.
I know many women feel that the past temple procedures, and videos, did not really represent them the way they feel they deserve to be represented. But for black saints, what we see is that white couples were still being represented. Also, I might add that when white women go to church, or the temple, they get to see themselves represented. Maybe it’s not exactly how you would like. But “your” faces are in the artwork. “Your” stories are in the lessons. Saints who aren’t white don’t have that same luxury. Which leaves saints of color, ESPECIALLY black saints, feeling that there’s no space for them. Not that there’s not enough, which is how white women feel, but there is no room for us, at all. There is no where that we belong. And this is why so many black members are the ONLY LDS person in their family, because so many do not want to intentionally subject themselves and their families to constantly being “the other”.
Anyways. As you’re discussing these changes and other ways that the church can be better, more inclusive, more respectful, more whatever, towards women, remember, the church hasn’t only wronged white women. The damage done by the church has been intersectional so your work to improve the church needs to be intersectional as well.