Many black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been blessed since the priesthood was extended to all worthy male members a decade ago, but there remains unfinished business, a sociology professor said Wednesday.
Armand L. Mauss, of Washington State University, told an audience of more than 500 at the Sunstone Symposium that the number of blacks in the LDS Church has increased from 2,000 10 years ago to an estimated 200,000 today."It's time we reflect on what's been accomplished in the past 10 years and look forward to increased progress in the coming decade," he said.
While there is much good news regarding the full participation of black church members, "black saints are not yet fully fellow citizens but remain to some extent strangers in the church," Mauss said.
The Sunstone Symposium is being held through Saturday at the University Park Hotel. The symposium, sponsored by a private foundation, features discussions on religious theology by LDS and non-LDS scholars.
Also addressing the topic Wednesday of "Blacks in Mormonism: 10 Years After the Revelation," Betty Bridgeforth, a former civil rights activist with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organization, expressed gratitude for her LDS Church membership.
Since participating in non-violent equal rights movements in Chicago in 1967, Bridgeforth has been actively promoting equality for blacks. When she was first contacted by LDS missionaries in 1979, she asked herself, "How could a civil-rights activist join a predominantly white church?"
But because she believed deeply the doctrines of the LDS Church, she was baptized. In 1980, she moved to Utah and joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Since then, she said, doors have opened to her to dissolve barriers and increase understanding. She has had many opportunities with the choir to discuss the LDS Church with prominent black leaders - including former U.S presidential candidate Jesse Jackson; Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Coretta King, King's widow.
"Saints of goodwill must offer support. Many have offered support and many have not. There is still much to do."
While several of her friends accuse her of losing her identity as a black by joining the LDS Church, she said she has found increased joy and discovered more purpose in life since her LDS conversion.
Her husband, Ruffin Bridgeforth Jr., the first black high priest in the LDS Church, shared his views on priesthood doctrine.
He had been an active member of the church for 25 years before he received the priesthood.
Before the 1978 announcement, it was difficult for him to understand why his 12-year-old son could not pass the sacrament in church meetings with his white friends. However, Bridgeforth said he believed that "in the Lord's own time" he would receive the priesthood.
When the announcement was made, he received calls of congratulations from friends and news reporters throughout the nation.
He said it was an emotional experience when he was able to lay his hands on his wife's head and give her a blessing - something he had called upon others to perform in the past.
Edward Kimball, son of the late President Spencer W. Kimball who received the priesthood revelation 10 years ago, told the Sunstone audience he believes the Lord's timetable is affected by human conduct.
"Answers come when questions are asked." The revelation was received, Kimball said, because of man's willingness to accept the answer.
"This reaffirms my belief that God speaks today."