Sunday, August 05, 2007

FAIR: Thursday Afternoon

I've heard of Darius Gray several times over the years. I learned that I'd been mispronouncing his name. It is duh-RIE-us rather than DARE-e-us as I had previously guessed. He has played an important role in helping African Americans integrate into the modern church. We watched an "extended trailer" of the upcoming documentary on the experience on present day black Mormons. Afterwards, we heard some comments from Gray and from Margaret Young who is working on it with him.

For the most part, I liked what I saw of the documentary. I think I got a better sense in the few short minutes we saw, of the genuine cultural challenges that existed in welcoming black members into full fellowship in the church. I realize that there are a few different black cultures in the United States and I felt a greater appreciation for the goodness of some of that culture.

There were a couple of things about the trailer that bothered me, but they may turn out to be non-issues in the real film. First, Gray and Young both made a big deal out of the appearance of "Pastor Chip" in the film. He is an L.A. pastor whom they claim is as prominent in his sphere as President Hinckley is in ours. I accept that this may be accurate, but he seemed to receive an inordinate amount of screen time in a documentary that is ostensibly about Latter-day Saints. He had some very nice things to say about the church, but toward the end of the trailer, they showed a clip where he said something negative about the priesthood ban. The camera then cuts to a video of President Hinckley at the pulpit, mute, in between thoughts, starting to mouth something. It was almost like slow motion footage and seemed calculated to convey the message that President Hinckley just didn't have any good response to what the pastor had just said. It really rubbed me the wrong way. But that is a small complaint in what looked like a great trailer. I am looking forward to the film.

Gray, during the question and answer period, implied strongly that the Brethren have a consensus opinion on the "why" of the priesthood ban. He claims they do not publish it, but have authorized him to share it. Frankly, that claim was downright bothersome. I wasn't bothered by the actual explanation that he provided, only with his claim to behind-the-scenes approval from the Brethren. They seem perfectly capable of speaking for themselves and I don't like people claiming to speak on their behalf. [UPDATE: see Margaret Young's response in the comments below for more information on this point.]

The explanation boiled down to saying that it was a test for black people, much like the test of being born blind. We can be mad at God because he allows such things to happen, or we can thrive anyway. God, according to this theory, didn't order the priesthood ban, but allowed it to happen. I suspect there is a lot of truth to this explanation, but I can't help but wonder why God didn't call it off the first time a prophet prayed about it if it was only an evil he was allowing to occur as long as we didn't correct it. Obviously, it is a difficult issue and I'm grateful that serious people like Gray and Young are tackling it.

Next, we heard from Larry Morris about the various controversies that have surround Oliver Cowdery over the years. This was an interesting talk, but I don't have much reaction to it other than to note that Morris isn't totally convinced that Oliver actually practiced polygamy; he tells us that other scholars are more convinced but he's just not sure.

Jeff Walker took us on a fun tour of the legal issues surrounding Joseph's imprisonment in Liberty jail in Missouri. He pointed out many of the absurd things that were allowed to happen in the "justice" system, including a grand jury which included three men who had participated in the Haun's Mill Massacre. There's more than I have space to include here, but I do want to share the most surprising tidbit that Walker revealed for us.

There has been a question about whether the sheriff released the Mormons after they finally secured a change in venue, or whether they escaped. A promissory note was discovered which was payment from the Mormons to one of the guards for the two horses they rode off on. I guess the guards realized what a raw deals the Mormons were getting and couldn't continue to be a party to it. Joseph later casually records in his history the day in Nauvoo where this same guard paid him a visit. Joseph didn't elaborate, but Joseph III clues us in that this was to collect on the promissory note. I assume Joseph paid him.

I pretty much tuned out Wendy Ulrich's talk because she started her presentation with a handout that invited us to think of 6-7 things that were wrong in our homes growing up, and 6-7 thing about our parents that annoyed us, and our greatest frustrations. Who wants to spend time trying to dredge up that kind of stuff if you're not in serious need of emotional repair? Not me. I had a fairly wonderful childhood and I consider myself very blessed on that account.

The day concluded with John Sorenson's remarks. I don't have anything to add here than what has already been published on other blogs. I really admire that man.


  • The D-News had a story the other day saying that the documentary being put together by Young and Gray is in financial trouble. They are looking for another $25K to finish it off. I visited the website and looked at the donation form. I don't have a lot of spare cash to toss around, but I was thinking I wouldn't mind sending them a small check.

    It does concern me, however, whenever anyone claims to have private information from The Brethren that they are not comfortable mentioning in public themselves. I have watched people make this claim throughout my life. Very frequently, such people have ultimately rebelled against the church and have gone down the wrong path. I have seen this happen enough that any such claim raises serious red flags with me.

    I do not mean to denigrate Brother Gray. He has done a heck of a lot for people and has seemed to be pretty rock solid. Still, I see the claim that he has been authorized to say something on behalf of church leaders that they themselves are unwilling to say as a warning sign.

    By Blogger Reach Upward, at 8/06/2007 12:03 PM  

  • Correction needed:
    Darius is extremely careful about what he says on the priesthood issue. I was present at the meeting in which Elder Cecil Samuelsen (then the GA over the Genesis Group)told Darius that he did indeed have permission from the Brethren to teach what he (Darius) calls "Not a Curse but a Calling", providing he make a disclaimer (which he always makes, and which he made at FAIR) that what his words should not be considered Church doctrine and were his own, but were consistent with the scriptures. (The phrasing was provided for him.) Darius had been extremely careful to NOT teach these ideas until he had explicit permission to do so, in accordance with instructions in the D&C. He submitted all of the material to the Brethren with the request that he be allowed to teach it. There were about fifteen of us present at the meeting in which that permission was given by Elder Samuelsen. I have heard Darius make the presentation a number of times. I have NEVER heard him make it without prefacing it with the disclaimer.

    We will have a version of the trailer on our website (untoldstoryofblackmormons.com) very soon, so you all can decide if Pastor Chip Murray gets too much time. We did indeed choose several focus points, and he was one. We didn't want a series of talking heads, but several select spokesmen/women who the audience could learn to recognize. Darius appears only minimally in the trailer, but is prominently featured in the documentary, as are other black Latter-day Saints. But this is NOT a Mormon production. It is simply being made by Mormons. I don't find any of what Pastor Chip says to be negative. His final words about Mormons (in the trailer) are, "It is true that the LDS Church has been a factor in discrimination, but you do so much good...your hearts are right." (The ellipsis deletes his response to President Hinckley's words to him, which you can hear on the trailer.)

    Reach upward--we would be most appreciative of any donation, small or large.

    By Anonymous Margaret Young, at 8/08/2007 8:38 PM  

  • P.S.
    About President Hinckley--we certainly did not intend the image of the Prophet to express anything but strength and goodness. That's what it conveys to me.

    I should mention that the Church is very protective of President Hinckley's image, understandably. We just heard from Intellectual Properties that we will not be able to use President Hinckley's image or audio in the trailer (though we are hopeful we can use them in the documentary). Therefore, when the trailer goes up on our website within the next few days, it will be minus President Hinckley. (The words we used were from his magnificent talk in the April 2006 Priesthood session.)

    By Anonymous Margaret Young, at 8/08/2007 8:55 PM  

  • Margaret,

    Thanks for your comments. Your account of what Darius said squares well with my memory. My point is that Darius doesn't need anybody's permission to share his opinion about the ban. If it isn't the official doctrine of the church, then it is just his opinion and he can say what he wants. If the some of the general authorities of the church share the same opinion, that is fine, but it still doesn't make it official. Darius's statement of support from unnamed, but explicitly multiple Brethren, seemed to unnecessarily imply official approval.

    Thanks also for the reminder of Murray's last name, which I couldn't remember and for the link to your website. Neither Margaret nor Darius are collecting a salary for working on this film. They have a single paid editor, so they are keeping costs to a minimum but any donations would still be helpful in covering their expenses in shooting.

    By Blogger Bradley, at 8/09/2007 6:08 AM  

  • Understood, Bradley.
    Perhaps a bit more explanation is called for. Darius felt that he had a strong revelatory experience several years ago connected with "Not a Curse but a Calling" but he is very aware of how many people claim to have had revelation and then spout foolishness. He did not want to be teaching anything (especially in his calling as Genesis president) which the Brethren had not approved. (I am aware of several cases where someone has prepared something and general authorities have stepped in and requested that it NOT be taught, such as the curse of Cain.) Darius made this a matter of prayer and felt that he needed to present what he wanted to teach, based on that revelatory experience, and have it approved. This was in accordance with scripture. And it shows the kind of man he is. The race issue in the Church is so potentially incendiary that any false doctrine does damage beyond what we might imagine. That is why he was so careful.

    For him, receiving permission to teach the material he had sent was of supreme importance. He would not have taught it without that permission. Again, that's simply who he is. And it mattered to him that Elder Samuelson, who had never attended out Genesis leadership meetings, came personally to this one and conveyed the permission.

    It may seem like a very simple matter to you. Anyone can state an opinion. But because so many have speculated and have been (in Elder Oaks's words) "spectacularly wrong," Darius wanted to be extremely careful.

    By Anonymous Margaret Young, at 8/09/2007 6:57 AM  

  • That clarification makes a lot of sense to me and I think I really understand where you're coming from. Thanks for sharing that!

    By Blogger Bradley, at 8/09/2007 7:00 AM  

  • This clarification is wonderful. I received a personal email from Darius Gray clarifying the issue. I am both humbled and impressed.

    By Blogger Reach Upward, at 8/09/2007 4:05 PM  

  • Bradley,

    I think the other key piece that you left out or that may be misunderstood is that Darius *first* said something like I'm going to tell you two things about the ban. "The first is the Church's official position: We don't know." Then he followed it with something like the second is my opinion and I have permission of the Brethren to share it and it doesn't contradict the scriptures." I don't have my notes so that is my rough memory.

    So, he wasn't really trying to say he was teaching official position. He was clear on what the official church position is.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/10/2007 9:33 PM  

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