the thinker

Missionary practices before 1978

We posed the following question on the message board ‘Recovery from Mormonism' to verify something often repeated that LDS missionaries before 1978 were instructed by their local Mission Leaders to not try to teach or baptize black people. The title of the thread was "RMs before '78 - were you told to avoid black investigators?"

"I remember reading RFM posts years ago where missionaries, serving before the priesthood ban was lifted, were told to basically avoid black neighborhoods and if they tracked into a black family, they were to not try to convert them, but rather just wished them well or gave a Jesus thought or something. Can those of you that served pre-1978 either confirm or deny that this was the policy in your mission?"

Here are the replies (note: some replies did not answer the question and were deleted):

Posted by:jpt
Date: March 24, 2014 04:39PM

Mid 70s. We were told we could briefly talk about "the gospel," and perhaps leave a BofM with them, but we shouldn't schedule a return appointment.

If anybody asked about the ban, we were to say it was a "mystery," with no further discussion about it. Which is of course a lie, since there was nothing mysterious about the church's beliefs/doctrines before that time.

Gotta love having prophets, seers, and revelators to be ahead of the times. <sarcasm> It's more than just a "fleck of history" to me.

Doctrinal evolution of the subject during my life:
1. Doctrine/Policy
2. Mystery
3. Never happened and/or just "flecks"
4. It's Brighams's fault.

Posted by:weeder
Date: March 24, 2014 04:42PM
I was a missionary in Oakland, CA just after "revelation"

My companion and I were the FIRST missionaries in specific areas of Oakland.

The policy in the Oakland mission before I arrived: If you found an African American investigator you as the missionary could NOT teach them. They must be brought to the Mission President and they would be directly taught by him.

Needless to say this NEVER happened.

Posted by:utahstateagnostics
Date: March 24, 2014 04:47PM

My seminary teacher told me that in Argentina in the early 70's they had to do a little background detective work by seeing if they had any black blood in their recent heritage.

He said he accomplished that by asking to see family photos of grandparents and see how dark they were.

That was the part he hated most about his mission.

Posted by:Cokeisoknowddrinker
Date: March 24, 2014 04:47PM

Early seventies:

Do not bother to teach the blacks..

tell them you are tie salesmen.

move' along

Posted by:thedesertrat1
Date: March 24, 2014 05:30PM

1958 Argentina I received no instructions whatsoever on this issue

Posted by:BG
Date: March 24, 2014 05:32PM
Yes no Blacks, Turks or Pakistanis

That was in Scandinavia, and was enforced even after Spring Conference of 1978.

Posted by:S2 in Chandler
Date: March 24, 2014 05:36PM

Chicago and downstate Illinois, mid 70s.

We were instructed to encourage them to attend a church of their choice.

If, by odd chance, we were invited in, we were to teach a family home evening lesson, leave a FHE flyer and the same encouragement I mentioned above.

We were specifically told not to teach them anything more substantial than that.


Posted by:danr
Date: March 24, 2014 06:03PM
We were given instructions from the mission office

1) Don't proselyte in black neighborhoods.

2) Don't ever use the word "Mormon" or "Latter Day Saints" when conversing with a black person.

3) If a black person answers the door say we are representing Jesus Christ and hand them a pamphlet and leave.

4) If they know you are a Mormon and question the black-priesthood law explain to them the law is from our prophet. If you believe he is a prophet you know the law is from God. If you don't believe he is a true prophet then the rule doesn't matter to you.

Yeah, we were jerks.

Posted by:baura
Date: March 25, 2014 03:52AM
Re: We were given instructions from the mission office new

danr Wrote:

> 4) If they know you are a Mormon and question the
> black-priesthood law explain to them the law is
> from our prophet. If you believe he is a prophet
> you know the law is from God. If you don't
> believe he is a true prophet then the rule doesn't
> matter to you.

> Yeah, we were jerks.

This smug bit of double-talk was the standard way of answering
the obvious question back before the 1978 "revelation."

Phrase it another way . . . "If you don't believe he is a true
prophet then the fact that we teach millions of people that you
and your kind are cursed, inferior, and to be avoided and
shunned in many situations doesn't matter to you."

When it's put that way the reality of the situation comes out.

Posted by:00buck
Date: March 24, 2014 06:27PM

69-71 ARIZONA,
told not to teach blacks

Posted by:iris
Date: March 24, 2014 06:44PM

Missionary in Louisiana and Mississippi 1975-76, 18 months of tracking and some teaching. Was told by MP to leave a message about Jesus should anyone of African American answer the door. Specifically instructed to not teach them the LDS gospel.

Posted by:RPackham
Date: March 24, 2014 08:00PM

My younger brother served in Brazil in the 1960s. He told me that occasionally they would be approached on the street by a black person asking if they were missionaries and where they could attend church. He said that they would say "Yes, we are missionaries." Then they would give them directions on how to get to the JWs' Kingdom Hall.

Posted by:blueorchid
Date: March 24, 2014 08:04PM

We were told not to proselyte blacks at all. Late sixties, Argentina.

Posted by:zelph-doubt
Date: March 24, 2014 08:11PM

Virginia Roanoke Mission, 1977-79.

First half of my mission was a crash course on white supremacy. Instructions were as mentioned above. Avoid at all costs. If self referred, teach but we were not to introduce the idea of baptism.

After the 1978 "revelation", as missionaries, we still didn't really desire salvation for our black brothers and sisters, but found that tracking in black neighborhoods was great for padding the weekly stat. report because of a natural openness and hospitality among them. And oh, how comical it was to us to hear genuine 'amens' and 'hallelujahs' as we taught them.

We'd laugh our asses off as we walked down a dirt road to the next tar-paper shack where, in the middle of summer, many had to burn pieces of old tires and wood as the only way to cook their food.

That 'we' were so blessed and 'they' were so cursed stuck long after the June press conference.

Posted by:armtothetriangle
Date: March 25, 2014 12:41AM

Bavaria '77-'78 so not an issue. But you brought back a memory of one of my first questions, i.e., doubts. "So blessed, so blessed"- heard it nonstop. But I wondered, if I was more valiant in the premortal existence, would that have made me worthy of a greater challenge, like living on a junk pile in a third world country instead of in prep school with a GTO? I went back to school in the fall and was inactive/mostly out by Christmas.

Posted by:Shummy
Date: March 24, 2014 08:17PM

I had an Idaho hick roomie at the Y in 67 who boasted how his MP in the Carolinas told them explicitly how to deal with them *expletive deleted* uh coloreds.

Posted by:CrispingPin
Date: March 24, 2014 08:50PM

I served 76-78, but I was in the Orient (so no instructions about how to deal with blacks). I was very TBM back then, but I was grateful that during my mission, I never had to deal with something that was so hard for me to accept. Like many people, this was one of my earliest and most difficult "shelf" items.

Posted by:randyj
Date: March 24, 2014 10:57PM
In Alabama in the early 1970s...

...that's exactly what missionaries were told to do: don't tract in black neighborhoods, and if you did happen to knock on a black person's door, introduce yourselves and tell the resident to have a nice day and attend the church of their choice. I went on "splits" with missionaries several times in Montgomery before I went on my mission to Australia, and that is exactly what they told me their policy was.

The local mission president, out of Tallahassee at the time, was Hartman Rector from about 1970-73, and Spencer H. Osborn from 1973-76. Rector was a GA when he was MP, and Osborn became one later.

"Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20 27.) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them..."
Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527 528

"The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them" means that missionaries did not intentionally seek out black investigators before the 1978 priesthood change.

Posted by:color me impressed
Date: March 24, 2014 11:35PM

The sad truth is that the Mormon church lies. No surprise there since it was founded on fraud.
When I joined the church in 1963 I was taught by the missionaries that blacks were not proselyted because "they were fence sitters in the pre-existance"....& that the early church reformers like Martin Luther were "evil designing men" who wanted to corrupt the scriptures for their own gain.
All the time, it was Joseph Smith who was corrupting scriptures for his own gain.
When my sons went out on missions, they never heard anything but praise for the early reformers. Times change .....and the
morphing mormon church "restored in purity" has cleaned up a few messes trying to be mainstream. As recent as 10 years ago while serving a stake mission I once again heard about the "fence sitters" at a stake mission meeting where those "not born under the covenant" were stratified downward in the social hierarchy because their "conduct in the pre-existance did not earn them a better birthright".
The mormon doctrine is NOT Christian.
I am so glad to no longer belong to the mormon church with its arrogant view of humanity.

Posted by:deepenough
Date: March 25, 2014 12:11AM

In the England Central Mission, ca. 1970-72, investigators who seemed to be really interested were called "golden." Some of the actually joined up.

We kept a tracting record, which stayed in the area and had spaces for four or five visits to each address. If we visited a house or apartment that was occupied by people who appeared to be all or part black, we wrote "golden brown" in the tracting record, so that the next pair elders would know that they didn't need to knock on that door again.

My senior companion told me that you could usually tell if a person had black ancestry by looking at his or her eyes. If the 'whites' of the eyes had a yellow color, that was the sign.

Posted by:morganizedreligion
Date: March 25, 2014 12:34AM

FIL is in his late 50s, maybe 60. He served in FL and was told to avoid teaching blacks. If he knocked on a door with a black for a min., bid them a good day, and get out ASAP. He also is still very against inter-racial marriage. He's a MP right now. :(

Posted by:steve benson
Date: March 25, 2014 12:51AM
I was a teen in the Indiana-Michigan mission field in 1971 . . . new

. . . where my dad was the mission prez and I was soon to go on my own mission. There in the Fort Wayne mission home I was told that Blacks "are different." There was no direct order to stay away from them but the message was clear: Don't seek them out.

Posted by:erictheex
Date: March 25, 2014 12:57AM

Florida, GA and Alabama, 1994-96: told to not "focus on only blacks" (translation: a few is ok, but too many makes members mad). I had a branch president in Moultrie, GA ask me to talk to the MP about creating a black branch "like they have in SLC for mexican or tongans". After I explained to him that was a language thing, he insisted. He said we don't mind you elders bringing a few of them around, but they put a huge burden on me and the branch.

Posted by:baura
Date: March 25, 2014 03:59AM

I'm sure part of the "not too many Blacks" request had to do
with residual racism, but I would also bet it had to do with the
fact that Blacks were generally poorer than Whites.

If there's one COLOR that the Church cares about, it's GREEN.

Posted by:verilyverily
Date: March 25, 2014 01:25AM

Maybe the real truth is that the OCCULT CULT thought black people were too smart to be sucked into this insanity so don't even bother trying..... my guess.

Posted by:PapaKen
Date: March 25, 2014 01:54AM

In 1970, Marion Romney came to our mission & when asked what we should do if a black person/family answers the door, he said:

"We don't proselyte the Negro. Tell them a story about Jesus, and be on your way."

Posted by:zelph-doubt
Date: March 25, 2014 06:38PM

"would have thought there would be some disclaimer or method of operation if the particular black people in question had money.

The priesthood ban on black people is always used as a diversion away from the deeper issue. That being that Mormonism is a racist religion to its very core doctrine.

However, Mormons do not seem to have a problem ignoring doctrine if there is a buck to be made.

I would have thought missionaries would have been trained to give the sales pitch to wealthy blacks."-Deco

From my experience, racist to the core. In Portsmouth,VA, I remember one subdivision that was upper-middle class, and all black (of course) that we worked after the heavens opened (of course). One gentleman in particular asked us in because he was curious about the ban. The discussion was cordial until I referred to his people as "colored" and he just about came over the top of the table after me. Being from Utah all my life, I had thought that that was a respectful term. Looking back I guess my upbringing was a tad backward.

But to address your question, not even the wealthiest black person received any attention before the change in policy. NONE!

Posted by:whiskeytango
Date: March 25, 2014 06:57PM

It isn't always about money....If it were the church would be seeking out the gay community which tends to have a higher income than the rest of the population...We don't see that happening...

They would also encourage women to get better educations because that would increase the tithing income....It also is about power and control which can be just as enticing as money.....

Posted by:Jesus Smith
Date: March 26, 2014 09:38AM

Polarizing people against a small enemy can raise a lot of cash that a disaffected minority will never bring in by comparison.

Anger and fear are motivators for hellfire donations far better than love and acceptance.

For evidence, prop8 brought in tens of millions in LDS contributions, above and beyond tithing.

Posted by:themaster
Date: March 25, 2014 06:59PM

When I was a missionary, Mark E Petersen himself came to our mission and had all of the missionaries sit in the choir seats. I sat right next to the man himself. One of the missionaries asked what we were to do if BLACKS wanted to be taught. I heard him speak with his own voice which we know from revelation that it is the same as god himself speaking.

Mark E Petersen said that we were not to teach blacks, we were not to invite them to church. We were to excuse ourselves and go find white people to teach.

God himself wanted me to be a racist. I heard it from Mark E Petersen's own mouth. I bowed my head and said YES!!!!!!!

Posted by:catnip
Date: March 26, 2014 04:46AM
I'm not an RM but I knew some mishies pretty well.

This was in the late 80's, in the VERY Deep, rural South.

One mishie told me that they had been told it was OK to teach blacks, just try to be extra sure that the investigators could pay their own way and weren't just interested in the welfare system.

I never thought to ask if they did the same thing with dirt-poor rednecks.

Posted by:misterzelph
Date: March 26, 2014 08:41AM

There were no black people where I served (mid 70's). I did however, as a teenager, go on splits with the full time elders. If we were going door to door and a black person answered the door, this is what we were instructed to say: "good afternoon sir, we are going door to door conducting an informal religious survey. Do you attend any church regularly?" Whether they answered yes or no, we replied back, "thank you for participating in our survey and have a good day".

Posted by:Jesus Smith
Date: March 26, 2014 09:36AM

I know a returned missionary (well) who is still active that served when the announcement came in 1978. Before that, they were told that teaching black investigators required careful thought and planning. I recall, as a young boy, him telling us in a letter that he was excited for the change because now they could go teach black investigators without pause.

Editor Comments

Although there is not any evidence of an official, written directive by the Church Leadership in Salt Lake City, it is clear that it was the practice by many missions to actively avoid teaching black people the gospel before the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978. Many Returned Missionaries have told us that they were instructed from their Mission Presidents to not convert black families. Some of the posters above cited LDS leaders stating as such at missionary conferences. These include Apostle Mark E. Peterson and Marion Romney.

Very few of the respondents above said they received no such directives.

I don't think it is fair to throw all of the Mission Presidents under the bus on what they taught their missionaries. The MPs were likely given those instructions by those above them.

Perhaps some Mission Presidents realized that teaching black people about the virtues of the restored gospel and ultimately having to tell them they couldn't share in some of those blessings, like being sealed together as a family in the temple, would be too uncomfortable to discuss and chose to avoid it altogether.

Certainly we can't blame the 19 year-old missionaries for following orders. We do have to wonder if the prophets really receive revelation from God, would they have instructed the missionaries to specifically not teach the gospel to black people up through 1978?

Note: We don't state that this was the practice in many missions merely because of the handful of people that responded to this post on RFM, but rather because we have been told this many, many times in person by missionaries who served before 1978. This brief survey was to just validate things we had heard before. We would want to see a larger, more official survey performed and would fully expect similar results.

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