Stories of Triumph, struggle and strife – Deseret News excerpt June 8, 2003 Apr04

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Stories of Triumph, struggle and strife – Deseret News excerpt June 8, 2003

Darron Smith believes firmly that, despite the 1978 policy change, African American church members must become “culturally white” to fit in as Latter-day Saints. A doctoral candidate at the University of Utah and assistant to the vice president at UVSC, he teaches a class that challenges his mostly white students to step outside their historic mindset and understand his rationale.

“The church disciplines its membership to socially ‘perform’ Mormonism in a particular way, and this performance is fairly scripted,” he says. The “body language” of reverent singing, praying with arms folded and the lack of interaction during LDS sacrament services are a white, European form of spirituality, Smith maintains, noting that historically “”the black church grew out of the need to find ‘new’ ways of self-expression in the belief in Jesus Christ that was different from the white church.”

Such differences are among the reasons he believes the church still holds “limited appeal for African Americans.”

As co-editor of a forthcoming book that deals with black Latter-day Saints, Smith and fellow author Newell Bringhurst believe “the church has not done enough to undo its racist past, which remains as a major obstacle in its mission to teach, convert, fellowship and retain African Americans. To more effectively change its image as a racist organization, the church needs to forthrightly and frankly confront its past history of racial exclusion and discrimination. Admittedly, this constitutes a most challenging undertaking given the pervasiveness and persistence of racism in American society at large.