How We Misinterpret "Black" and "Curse" in the Scriptures: Insights from an African American Convert

Truths About Race

“It’s amazing the see the immediacy of the impact that changing one’s perspective has on breaking down barriers of hatred and misunderstanding. These barriers are typically based upon errant teachings from trusted sources, media, continually branded images, and deficiencies in self-esteem,” Perkins says.

One powerful example of this came when Perkins, along with Fred Bethel, who was currently serving as a bishop, taught two sets of missionaries in Fort Lauderdale about the scriptural teachings contained in the book Blacks in the Scriptures. “[We] asked them to go and study the passages on their own, then pray and ask God to confirm to them what is true. They came back, all having received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the work. Now with spiritually born testimonies of the work, we sent these four young men back into areas that had slammed doors on them, telling them never to come back. Armed with simply their testimonies of the work and two questions we had provided them, they returned after four days with 14 new families added to their teaching pool,” Perkins says. Fred Bethel’s ward went from having 11 baptisms in one year to having 56 baptisms the following year, and the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission became the top baptizing mission in North American for consecutive years, according to Perkins.

There is no doubt that power comes from learning spiritually-manifested truths rather than relying on worldly knowledge. In fact, in teaching about race and the priesthood, Perkins regularly finds most people he speaks with do not understand where the concept of race or the terms “black” and “white” stem from.

“Through years of petitioning the Lord on how to unite the human family, He has provided clear and simple guidance through the scriptures as well as social, scientific, and historical sources. For example, there is much strife based upon race, which is commonly described by the term racism. This term and concept is so deeply ingrained into the human psyche that many discussions are supported by the [idea] that God created the ‘races’,” Perkins says. “In our firesides, community events, and lectures, we identify the German gentleman, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, as the creator of the concept of race and the accompanying color scheme, black, white, yellow, red, and brown, to segment the human family. Blumenbach created the race concept building off of the earlier works of Carl Von Linnaeus and wrote it as his doctoral dissertation for graduation from medical school in 1775. The scientific community, so fascinated by Johann’s ‘concept,’ published his work and began scientific study to determine the differences in these newly introduced segments of the human family, or to disprove Blumenbach’s theory. Johann was able to disprove his own theory and responsibly documented his findings. However, this version of his work was not embraced, and the false concept of race grew to permeate our society. I have experienced first-hand that when one is taught the truth, that race is a man-made and not a God-made concept . . . [others] immediately see the oneness of the human family. We simply need to be courageous and faithful enough to find loving ways to teach truth continually.”

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Marvin Perkins presenting at a Los Angeles Temple Visitors Center fireside. Image courtesy of Marvin Perkins.

Rather than understand race as a means of division, Perkins sees differing skin color as a sign of God’s inherent love for all His children. “Each have different shades of brown hue to their skin. Each had ancestors that migrated and settled in different parts of the world. Each were given many gifts by a loving Heavenly Father for the sojourn here on earth. One of the exact same gifts given to each of them, was placing all the organs on the inside of the body, except for one. The largest organ, the skin, would be placed on the outside of the body, allowing it to adapt to its environmental conditions as their ancestors moved about the earth,” Perkins says. “Each time I see anyone with a different hue than my own, I think about an incredibly loving God, preparing to send His children out into the world, giving each the exact same gift. This says to me that He loves us all the same, and that is such a wonderful thought and feeling that it brings a smile to my face.”

Once that understanding is in place, the questions of crossing divisions or differences become easier for Latter-day Saints because we are able to see each other truly as part of the same human and heavenly family. “We are truly one,” Perkins says. “Those having a lighter shade brown are merely our sisters and brothers whose ancestors migrated out of the hotter climates. Those having the darker hues are simply family of ancestors that remained in or closer to our original homelands of Africa and the Middle East. So gaining a better understanding of our sisters and brothers of African descent is simply gaining a better understanding of oneself. Reaching out then becomes easy because it’s genuine.”

Becoming One

“Jesus Christ is the central meeting place for all who have a desire to be one. The closer we each get to Christ, the closer we get to each other,” Perkins says. “One of the primary attributes of Jesus Christ is love. Jesus is love. So, as we become like Jesus, we’ll naturally have the desire to be one.”

But Perkins also recognizes that becoming one does not rid us of our diversity. Diversity and variety are similarly divine. “Our Father brought us all here and allowed us to move about as we pleased. As we did so, we encountered different places, climates, diets, environments, and experiences. We established different practices, arts, languages, customs, gifts, and talents. Yet we never ceased being daughters and sons of God. . . . I personally have been able to grow to be a more useful servant of our Father in Heaven by learning from every culture that I’ve come in contact with. Take away any culture, and my learning, talents, and capacity to love are diminished. Just as in a bouquet of flowers, a dozen of one type of any flower can be beautiful. However, in order to greatly enhance that beauty, an assortment is added. Simply put, individually we are great, but together we are our greatest. The beauty of God’s love for all can be seen in the brilliant light of the sun. The sun is made up of all the colors of the rainbow but appear to our human eyes as one color, a brilliant white, as it shines through the sky which acts as a prism. Just as with the sun, the human family can only achieve our brilliance when all cultures or shades of brown are united.”

All images courtesy of Marvin Perkins
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