“Let Her Enter”

Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Belief, blessings, Changes, faith, female divine, Gender, Gospel, history, Mormon women, priesthood, race, temple, testimony | 23 comments

I received my endowment last year on April 27th  (sans marriage or mission at age 21…. I was ready and didn’t take no for an answer) and, I must say, I loved it. Let me rephrase: I loved the spirit that I felt there. As a feminist, obviously certain things bothered me. And as a woman of the world, certain things confused (read: freaked) the hell out of me. Still, one of the first things I said to everyone (after whisper-shouting, “I’m in a cult!”) was, “I’m home.” Despite all the imperfections and oddities of the temple, I feel at home there. Everything feels so natural and heavenly. When I’m in the prayer circle, it’s an otherworldly experience and I feel angels surrounding me. I feel a strong spiritual camaraderie with the other Saints as we pray for ourselves and for others. When I converse with the Lord through the veil and enter into “His” presence, for me, it symbolically represents being worthy to enter the presence of my Heavenly Family. I imagine that’s how it’ll be when I literally pass through the veil–– I’ll converse with my Father and enter into the warm and teary-eyed embrace of my Savior and my dear Mother. She will be absent to me no more.

As June 8th has come and gone, I thought about something: Had I been a member on April 27th, 1978, none of this would have happened. As a Black woman I would, literally, be on the outside looking in. Having gone through the temple, it breaks my heart to think about that. For all my feminist misgivings I have about the temple (the unreciprocated promise of obedience, the wording of the initiatory where my eternal blessings are attached to my non-existent husband, the silence of Eve after a certain point in the ceremony, etc.), I have a testimony of the temple. So it pains my heart to think that just 36 years ago, I would not have been able to receive those blessings.

I think of Jane Manning James, particularly. She was an African-American woman who traveled all the way to where the Saints settled in Illinois and lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith. She then made her way to the Utah Territory where she began to petition to receive her endowment. She petitioned the First Presidency multiple times to no avail. In the end, a special ceremony in the temple was performed in which she was sealed as a servant to Joseph Smith and his family. Sister James wasn’t even allowed in the temple when that “sealing” was performed. My heart aches thinking of Jane James as she faithfully pleaded with the Brethren to receive her endowment, but was denied every single time. Simply because she was black.

Jane_Elizabeth_Manning_James

My heart aches thinking of all the black pioneers before 1978 who joined the Church, but were not able to be sealed to their loved ones forever. My heart aches thinking of the countless number of fathers who couldn’t even bless and heal their own children because of their race. My heart aches reading this account from Darius Gray (a renowned Black Mormon pioneer who joined the LDS Church in 1964):

“I remember being in a Sacrament meeting, pre-1978, and the sacrament was being passed and there was special care taken by this person that not only did I not officiate, but I didn’t touch the sacrament tray. They made sure that I could take the sacrament, but that I did not touch the tray and it was passed around me. That was awfully hard, considering that often times those who were officiating were young men in their early teens, and they had that Priesthood. I valued that Priesthood, but it wasn’t available.”

As a woman, not being able to pass the sacrament because of my gender is hard enough, but to not be able to even touch the tray that represents the body and blood of the Savior? My eyes fill with tears at the thought. I can’t even imagine being a Black member of the Church before 1978. To be denied receiving my temple recommend simply because I was born in the wrong skin color would have given me great sorrow that I can’t even comprehend.

Despite whatever feelings you have about the temple and the priesthood, there is an amount of thankfulness that should be given, as those blessings would have never been denied to you. If you are of African ancestry, be so thankful for modern revelation and that He will send more down to guide us. And especially as women, we must all be thankful for June 8th, because if that day has shown us anything else, it is that there is hope for our future in the Church. Just as the beginning of equality for African-American Latter-day Saints happened on that day, our day of equality for female Latter-day Saints will soon come upon us. It inevitably will.

Until that day, I will celebrate June 8th. I will be thankful for the lifting of the Priesthood Restriction. I will be thankful for the great blessing it is for me to perform temple ordinances. I will continue to feel the strength of my ancestors as I complete their temple work. I know they will bless me and thank me for enabling them to progress in the Spirit World. I am the link that will bind the generations of my family. I know their spirits wept with joy on June 8th, 1978. They knew that eventually somewhere down the line, one of their posterity would embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And they knew that June 8th, 1978 would provide the opportunity for me, one of their posterity, to be the link that binds. Without that miraculous revelation, they would not receive the blessings that they have now received. And neither would I. On that most sacred day, the Priesthood was, once again, restored.

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23 Comments

  1. Thank you, dear East River Lady for your reflections and gratitude. They are both harrowing and hopeful.

    • p.s. reading this was our FHE tonight, and Spencer loved it as much as me. I’m sure C did, too.

      • Thank you so much, Rachel! And I’m honored that my post was your focus for your FHE.

  2. Thank you for such a beautiful and thoughtful post. There are so many things to think about here. I particularly like your idea of the priesthood, like the Church, being part of an ongoing restoration. I like to think about the word truth as a verb, like truing a bicycle wheel. The Church is true as long as it is also living and in the process of being trued. I’m grateful for the truth I have and hopeful for the truth to come.

    • One of the things that keeps me in and hopeful about the church is the idea of continuing revelation (and restoration!) a la Rachel’s comment about Pres Uchtdorf below. Here’s to more truth being revealed! A living church, indeed.

  3. I love this post. There is a lot of hope in June 8th. I think I might start celebrating that day from now on.

    Thank you for this.

  4. Thank you for this post. I have a great-great grandmother who I have reason to believe was probably 25% African ancestry and was “passing” as white in Utah. She never joined the church and her grandson didn’t know much about her history. Her husband and children were members. I wonder if perhaps she wanted to join but knew the problems involved because of her ancestry. I think about her continuing to hide who she was in order to free her children from knowing their ancestry. Was she thinking that was a better alternative to revealing to her children and grandchildren knowledge the meant they should not experience the blessings of the gospel? Heartbreaking.

    • That is truly heartbreaking. I am sorry that that happened and that the Church indirectly encouraged hiding her ancestry. Ugh.

  5. Wonderful post, East River Lady. I absolutely love hearing your reflections and feelings as a black Mormon, and your hopes for the future. The fact that you can feel good about the temple, even amidst its significant problems, gives me hope that maybe I might be able to do the same someday.

  6. I’m crying as I read this for two reasons: first because so much of your experience resonates with me. I too am single, took out my endowment at 21 sans husband or mission because I felt I was ready, and felt at home there in spite of my feminist misgivings.
    Second, because I am so sad for the pain that resulted from the ban for those of African descent. I can’t even imagine.
    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    • It’s weird how that happens–– how we can still feel the Spirit despite all that rubs us the wrong way. It causes cognitive dissonance for me sometimes, but what I feel in the temple can’t be denied or ignored. Until my misgivings overpower the spirit, I keep attending.

      Thank you for your kind words, Jess R!

  7. Like you, I have a testimony of the temple. Even though there are parts that are hard, the temple has brought me so much hope and joy and peace, and it’s hard to realize that there were sisters who did not have that privilege until 1978.

    I also wish we talked about this more. I knew that black men didn’t have the priesthood until 1978, but I only learned that black women were not able to attend the temple in the past year when we were putting together the temple issue for EXII.

    Thank you for this poignant piece, ERL.

  8. Great post–I knew about the priesthood ban being lifted (I remember thinking the ban and speculations about it were crap, even as a child), but I didn’t realize it was on June 8th. I have a special affinity for June 8th for unrelated reasons, but now I will have a second reason to commemorate this day. It would be nice if the Church would recognize it, somewhat like we recognize Pioneer Day. Finally, I saw this article and thought these women had something important to say: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58033811-78/black-church-lds-smith.html.csp

    • I feel the same way! We really should recognize June 8th as much as Pioneer Day. But I feel the Church is still ashamed and tries to sweep it under the rug. Sigh.

  9. The title of this post gives me chills. Your testimony is warm and beautiful and I say “Amen” to all of it. I’m so glad you are who are and where you are right now. Thank you for writing this.

    We’ve come a long way. And we have a long way yet to go. As I sat through a temple session last week, the thought came to me, “We need more variety of skin tones in this film.” I had been thinking about the anniversary of the lifting of the priesthood/temple ban. I thought of what it might be like for my dark brown sisters and brothers to sit in a session and see every character portrayed by light brown actors. It would make the experience so much more rich and meaningful for all of us to alter this simple element.

    And while I’m at it, couldn’t we just put Heavenly Mother in there somewhere? Seriously, she could be knitting in the background, or gardening in a corner of Eden, or making plans with the women-folk on the other side of the celestial plains. Just put her in the story already!

    Thanks again, East River Lady. This is a lovely start to my day. God bless.

    • Even though I’m white, I envision Heavenly Mother as black. And if we ever do get to see a portrayal of our Heavenly Mother in the temple, I will probably be able to accept it emotionally only if the actress is black. Here’s why.

      When I was in high school, I was friends with one of Marta Gabre-Tsadick’s sons. She was the first female senator in Ethiopia and she had to flee the country (and was lucky to manage the escape) and became a refugee when the Communists took over Ethiopia in the 1970s. A church (non-LDS) in our city sponsored their family to come to the US. Marta started a relief organization called Project Mercy.

      My own mother must have had some leadership calling in the church, because she asked Marta to come talk to the RS sisters at a big meeting. I imagine Marta talked about her organization, I don’t remember. What I do remember is the jaw-dropping feeling I had as she walked in and up to the stand and spoke to us. I had never seen anyone so classy, so dignified, so stately, so regal. So queenly. I knew the way she had come to the US and her current economic status because I was friends with her son. But this was not a poor refugee standing in front of us. She stood up very straight. She spoke quietly but firmly. She was someone who had been through great suffering and come through it with head held high. She spoke with power.

      I googled for images of her today and can see that even though she is 30 years older than when I first saw her, she is still beautiful. Even though I have ancestors in the church going back to Kirtland, and have a wonderful mother of my own, Marta is the picture in my head when I think of our Heavenly Mother.

      Loved this post. Thank you for writing it.

      • I love this idea–that Heavenly Mother could be black. It would make sense that our heavenly parents look like us–*all* of us children.

  10. Wait!!! I’m a little late to this topic but are you saying that even when the priesthood ban was lifted black women could not enter the temple? What kind of church is this? Thank you for sharing. Your post is very touching.

    • I think she is saying that on June 8, 1978, all restrictions on temple attendance were lifted for black people, and the restriction on priesthood ordination was lifted for black men.

  11. Wonderful post. Your last phrase, “the priesthood was, once again, restored” is so profound. Because restoration is not a once-and-for-all thing. I don’t think Joseph Smith saw it that way.

    It is heartbreaking to consider the ways the church denied the full humanity of black people for so long. I almost said people of African descent, but all people are of African descent if you go back far enough. Seeing the courage of those people who affiliated themselves with the church in spite of its grave shortcomings gives me courage to stay now.

    • President Uchtdorf’s talk in the latest General Priesthood session mirrored this idea, too:

      “Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes ‘all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,’ and the ‘many great and important things’ that “He will yet reveal.’”

  12. I am sad to think that I had forgotten about June 8th being the day, since I clearly remember where I was and what I felt when I heard the news. I taught the Elders’ Quorum on Sunday and would have mentioned it. It would have fit in with the “extra” lesson I taught. The week before, the instructor quoted from a Conference talk by an Assistant to the Twelve, and wasn’t sure whether that office was anything. I explained how the priesthood was rearranged both at the general and local levels when the 70′s were reorganized. Assistants to the Twelve joined the First Quorum of the 70, and the other 70′s quorums were established. At the local level, there were no longer stake groups of 70, but all men who were ordained 70s could join either the High Priests or Elders. This extension of the priesthood to all worthy men on that date would have been a logical addition to the discussion. I am sorry I missed it.

    As I was walking through the reorganization of the priesthood structure, it occurred to me that a similar restructuring could happen if women were granted the priesthood. There would be some adjustment, but the Church would move forward, just as we have done in the past.

  13. This is powerfully breathtaking, East River Lady. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. This has made me crave the temple– something that I have not done in a long time. Thank you

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