Saturday, February 8, 2014

Black History Month

One example of 19th Century African-American Christianity
Before you start, I've heard the whine before, "When are we going to have White History Month?" It is true we don't have White History Month, the principal reason being that we already have twelve.

Case in point: I'm reading a great book, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith's Ohio Revelations, by Mark Lyman Staker. The author is not some radical, black-panther type, just a historian working for the LDS Church.

Somehow I missed, until now, hearing about any possible influence on the Smiths in Palmyra from those participating in the Underground Railroad then active in the town. There was also the incident across the road from the Smith's first business in Palmyra, Joseph being twelve-years-old, when a slaveholder attempted to recapture former slaves (along with a few extra Africans), but his group was only able to carry away two children leaving one person to die of his injuries. And, I had failed to make the connection between the "Shout" tradition in African-American Slaves/Freemen and the revivals conducted around Palmyra with their influence on young Joseph in his seeking after God and a church to join.

Then there was the first Mormon (or "Mormonite" as they were called) of African ancestry of whom we know. He was Black Pete, close associate of the Whitneys and Morleys in Kirtland. He was considered a religious "prophet" before anyone in Kirtland heard of the Book of Mormon. And he was influential in the spiritual practices of the people of Kirtland. Many of the revelations in Kirtland were the result of questions asked to the Prophet about religious practices with which the people there were familiar. Some religious exuberance was toned down by Joseph's teachings, yet gifts of the Spirit were and are important in the religious movement established by the Lord through Joseph the Prophet - and through the experiences and inspiration, even revelations of others, properly directed through channels of the restored Priesthood.

OK, even the practice of polygamy may have been influenced, in part at least, by the experience of the African Slaves and their culture in America. I haven't finished the book yet. And I will before the month is out.

Joseph Smith was anti-slavery without being a radical abolitionist. (It's hard to be a moderate, sigh). That would place him in about the same political position as Abraham Lincoln until certain States attempted to break the Constitutional Union. Brother Joseph also ordained African-Americans to the Priesthood. LDS History with regard to Africans has not always been positive. (See LDS Gospel Topics, or my blog).

And maybe it will help if we all learn a little more. Thank you, Brother Joseph, Brother Staker, and Brother Pete.

P.S. If you get the book, be sure to download this Errata. The publisher erroneously printed the wrong draft. The book is so well documented, it's important to see what the author intended.

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