June 1st was the 40th anniversary of the revelation that extended priesthood ordination to all men and priesthood covenants to all worthy members of the Church. Prior to this revelation, those of African descent were banned from these blessings. I know that for many my age, this Church policy has been a struggle and testimony shaker. While the Church published the “Race and Priesthood” essay a number of years ago, this has not seemed to help many who struggle with this issue. My prayer is that the “Be One” event will help those who struggle.
The “Be One” event was an event put on by the Church on June 1st of this year to celebrate that wonderful revelation. President Oaks spoke and then a beautiful display of song, narrative, and dance followed—with President Nelson concluding the event. It was a marvelous event, and so very different that normal Church pageantry. First off, there was a full gospel choir led by Gladys Knight; never in my life did I think that such music would come out of the Conference Center. Secondly, the cultures and struggles of our brothers and sisters was talked about openly and celebrated robustly. Throughout the performance, my soul was touched as I felt the spirit testify of the truthfulness and goodness of this event.
So why is it important that you watch it? This event celebrates long-awaited blessings for many members of the Church. The stories they share are real, and they are a vital part of our history. When I worked at the Church History Library, I was fortunate enough to intern on the Europe Africa team of Global Acquisitions. This meant that I worked first-hand with documents pertaining to the establishment and growth of the Church in Europe and Africa. The event mentioned the Maybes and the Cannons, who went over to Africa to baptize droves of people who had established the Church before they had the priesthood in their country. I worked with their 8-millimeter film of the events, and it is a modern-day Alma baptizing in the Waters of Mormon. There is literally a line of people snaking through the forest, Saints dressed in white, waiting to be baptized. You can see that footage here.
The power of these histories is that they are part of our Church’s history. The pain that Jane Manning James felt at not being able to receive temple blessings is something that we need to be cognizant of and understand. The yearning that these African Saints felt to join the Church is vital to the growth and success of those first branches on the African continent that have grown into stakes. This is a part of our history, and while it may not always feel good to admit that we have a history of racism within Church policies, it is important to know about and acknowledge. Burying our heads in the sand will no longer be a satisfactory response to tough questions about our past.
Additionally, President Oaks said that in no uncertain terms are ideas of prejudice to remain within the Church. From the event: “As servants of God who have the knowledge and responsibilities of His great plan of salvation, we should hasten to prepare our attitudes and our actions—institutionally and personally—to abandon all personal prejudices. Differences in culture, language, gender, race, and nationality fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our beloved Redeemer.” We are to open our arms to all those who come into our congregations. It is a necessity for the continuation of growth and unity within the Church. These are attitudes and prejudices that we, as the rising generation of the Church, have the power to change—and need to change.
This event is important for you to watch because it is important that we are one. How can we expect to be one without knowing about our own past and the ways in which our fellow brothers and sisters came into the gospel. We cannot hope to understand one another if we have no context of where another has been and their history. We must heed the counsel of President Oaks and President Nelson and put aside prejudices and come closer unto one another. The spirit will testify to you of the truthfulness within the event, and I pray that it will inspire you to be close to all those you come in contact with.