Earlier this month we went to visit my in-laws in Georgia. As we drove to their ward Sunday morning, my father-in-law pointed out the several protestant churches we passed. "That’s the black Baptist church... That’s the white Baptist church.... That’s where the white Methodists worship.... That Pentecostal church is mostly African-American." When we got to their Mormon ward I noticed that about a quarter of the congregation was of African decent. My father-in-law was in the bishopric with an black man. We had a musical number sung by a black man and his white wife.
This made me recall visiting South Africa in the 1980s where my older brother was finishing his L.D.S. mission. This was during the dark days of apartheid. Beaches, bathrooms, buildings, schools, entire cities, and especially churches were strictly segregated. By contrast, the L.D.S wards and branches I attended were conspicuously integrated. (Although some were more white or black depending on their location.)
This got me wondering. What would the Mormon church look like today in areas like the American South or South Africa had there not been the unfortunate, century long denial of the priesthood to blacks? Perhaps we would have adopted the same practice as many traditional Christian churches of separate black and white congregations. Perhaps this type of unofficial segregation would have continued today, as it has in many sects. The fact that blacks were not fully accepted into the L.D.S. church until after the larger American culture had already integrated itself may have had the ironic result of more racially diverse Mormon congregations.
I’m not trying to downplay negative effects the priesthood ban. I know we still have much racist baggage to overcome. But as I sat in sacrament meeting in Georgia, and as I have attended church in places like Washington DC and London where a majority of the worshippers were of African decent, I could tell we were on the right path. Indeed, I feel optimistic that we are moving closer to the ideal taught by Nephi: "And he inviteth them all to come unto Him and partake of His Goodness; and He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female.....and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." 2 Nephi 26:33.