When Daryl Planks married his wife Rachel in 2012, he knew she was a Mormon.
That fact didn’t bother him too much. Although he’d attended a Southern Baptist church with his mother up until age 16, their community in Mesa, Arizona, had been full of Mormons. Daryl recalled they were the ones that went across the street for about an hour every day during high school. They were always nice, always well behaved. That’s pretty much all he knew.
Oh, and the temples. He was curious about the temples, but his Mormon friends had always just answered his questions with, “I can’t tell you about that.” He’d also noticed that he’d never seen anyone from the Mormon Church that was black, like him.
Marrying a Mormon
Rachel was never pushy about religion while they were dating, although she had offered him a Book of Mormon. Daryl said no thanks. “I kind of felt like I was cheating on my church,” Daryl said, although at the time he only attended on the rare holiday.
“I would have given my soul away to tell you he would never be Mormon, ever,” Rachel said. “Not in this life.”
As the two dated and got married, they attended each other’s churches together every once in a while. “It seemed every time I went to her church it was fast Sunday,” Daryl said.
“I don’t know why it worked out that way. . . . I didn’t want to tell him no, but that’s not the greatest day to bring somebody,” said Rachel.
Daryl wondered, “Why are people up there crying? I don’t get it.” The subdued nature of the music was also very new compared to the lively gospel music he’d grown up with. “To me, gospel music is almost like food for your soul.”
Over the next five years of their marriage, Daryl became good friends with many of his LDS neighbors and those in Rachel’s ward. Sometimes he naturally felt like an outsider, but he never felt excluded or pressured. “They genuinely wanted to be his friend,” Rachel said.
Interactions with Mormons
Rachel and Daryl often had the missionaries or other ward members over for dinner, and the deacons would stop by on the first Sunday of every month to collect fast offerings. Daryl was cool with all of it, until one of the deacons that showed up on his doorstep was black.
Daryl knew that this young man, Samuel Larson, was the only black member in his wife’s ward, and he thought they’d sent him on purpose. “I was so mad. I refused to answer the door,” Daryl said.
“That’s just how it worked out on the route,” Rachel said, “But he was convinced.”
Although Daryl was adamant that he would never join the Church, he would often ask questions for curiosity’s sake.
One of his biggest questions was about what happens in the temple. It bothered him that no one could give him a straight answer. Why was it so secret?
It wasn’t until a good friend, Jessica Lynn, came over that he finally got an answer that made sense. Daryl recalled the conversation:
“You know about fraternities?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Daryl replied.
“You know how fraternities sometimes will have a secret handshake?” she continued.
“Yeah,” Daryl said.
“That’s kind of like the temple. That’s our fraternity. We do things that are sacred to us, and if you’re a member you can partake in that.”
Daryl also wondered about garments, and Sister Lynn used another analogy that finally clicked with Daryl. He recalls her saying, “It’s just like the Jewish yamaka. . . . This is our outward expression of our faith.”
Defending the Mormons
If there were two things Daryl was adamant about, they were the fact that he wouldn’t become a Mormon and that all religions should be respected. “He was very defensive about the Church,” Rachel said. “If anybody would say anything negative about Mormon people or about the religion, he would get very upset.”
One January day in 2014, Daryl and his wife rode past the Gilbert Arizona Temple on their motorcycles. The temple was open for public tours before it’s dedication, and several protestors stood outside wearing temple garments.
“It really bothered me,” Daryl said. “I wanted to jump off of my bike.” They continued riding home, but Daryl couldn’t let it go.
“We went to the store and got a big poster board and I wrote ‘Idiot’ on it and an arrow pointing. I had [Rachel] drop me off at the corner.”
Daryl Planks holding the sign that says “Idiot” in a crowd of protestors at the Gilbert Arizona Temple open house in 2014.
The protestors on the other side of the street saw Daryl and his sign and crossed over to him. “You’re not Mormon,” one man said to him.
“How do you know that?” Daryl asked.
“Because they don’t have the guts to stand out here and do this,” the man said.
“Well, you’re right. I’m not a Mormon,” Daryl admitted. “But I have nothing better to do than stand out here.”
Daryl said that it seemed as if every member of Rachel’s ward drove past the temple that night. He got a lot of honks and waves and even pictures taken by the press.
“It was just so disrespectful, you know. Regardless of your beliefs, you should never disrespect or belittle someone else’s beliefs,” Daryl said.
Seeing Black Mormons
When Rachel found out that Gladys Knight was coming to town, she immediately secured tickets.
The concert/fireside was six weeks out. Little did Rachel know the next weeks would send her into two surgeries just three weeks apart, the second of which was 48 hours before the concert.
“I was not in any shape to be going anywhere,” Rachel said. She felt strongly, however, that she should still go and that they needed the best seats possible. They got in line about three hours before the concert started, waiting in the hot 100-degree sun.
“She was having a hard time,” Daryl remembers. “I just kept saying, ‘Hey, let’s just go,’ and she wouldn’t.”
“I couldn’t let it go,” Rachel said, with tears. “I just felt so strongly that we had to be there.”
As soon as the concert started, Rachel looked over to see tears streaming down her husband’s face as Gladys Knight sang. “Like I said, I like gospel music. It just does something to me,” Daryl said. He was also amazed to see members of the choir and audience who looked like me.”
Gladys Knight reminded him of his mother, who had passed away several years prior. “When she got up there and started speaking, it was as if my mother was kind of chastising me,” Daryl said.
But it was William McDowell, Gladys Knight’s husband, who changed Daryl’s life.
“He just started having a conversation about his life growing up and his experiences with the Church. Like me, his concern was that there was no one there that looked like him,” Daryl said. “He said we can’t look at it as a race thing. When you look to the left and to the right, that person’s not white. They’re not black. They’re not brown. That’s your brother. That’s your sister. We’re all children of God.”
William McDowell’s speech resonated with Daryl. After the concert, he told Rachel, “I want to investigate the Church.”
Rachel’s eyes lit up. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m ready,”
Investigating the Mormons
The following day, despite great physical pain from her surgeries, Rachel secured another set of tickets and attended the Gladys Knight concert with her husband again, bringing their kids along. “I felt like he needed more,” she said. “I just wanted to give him that extra push over.”
Rachel also wrote a letter to Brother McDowell, telling him of the effect he’d had on her husband and thanking him. She also asked if there was any way he might be able to speak with her husband for a few minutes after the concert.
Daryl said that on that second night, it was as if he and William McDowell were having “a personal conversation in front of 1,500 other people.” Daryl said, “He got up there and spoke, and he looked right at me the whole time.”
Afterward, not only did William McDowell and Gladys Knight bring them back to meet them, but they talked for a long time. Daryl recalls William explaining that although the Church is perfect, the people are not and that there would be people who would let him down. He also gave Daryl his number and told him to text or call him at any time with questions. “If you choose to make this journey,” he said, “I will be there every step of the way.”
From left to right: Daryl Planks, Gladys Knight, and William McDowell
When Daryl decided to investigate the Church, he held nothing back. He read the Book of Mormon in two weeks and took three lessons a night from the missionaries. He made sure they gave him the pamphlets before each lesson so that he could study ahead of time and come with a list of questions.
“Our missionaries were amazing,” Rachel said.
Daryl gets a little teary-eyed when he talks about them. “They were sent there for me. I have no doubt about it.”
During his investigation, Daryl only came across one thing that concerned him. “I had an issue with the Word of Wisdom,” he said. But it’s not what you’d think. “I had an issue with the meat.”
Meat and Mormons
The Word of Wisdom tells us to eat meat sparingly, but as a guy who sees everything in “black and white” and who loves meat, Daryl had a hard time with that word “sparingly.”
When Daryl told the missionaries that, they just looked at each other. “So what you’re saying is that you have no issue with anything else we’ve talked about but this?”
“Yes,” Daryl said. No issues with Joseph Smith. No issues with temples. Just issues with meat.
Part of the problem was that a week before Daryl had been invited to an elders quorum activity called “Meatapoloza” where the main event was barbequing a couple hundred pounds of meat.
The missionaries struggled to explain this “grey area.” “I wasn’t hearing them at that point,” Daryl said. “The wall was up.”
The Elders decided to bring over one of Daryl’s good friends from the ward, Chris Doxsey, whose career was in the health industry.
“Brother, this is how we look at it,” Chris said. “If you’re sound in body, you’re sound in mind. If you’re sound in mind, you’re sound spiritually. We just want you to do what’s best for your body so you’re body does what’s best for your mind so you do what’s best for your spirit.”
“Well, why didn’t you say that?” Daryl asked. His friend’s message had clicked.
Becoming a Mormon
About a month after the first Gladys Knight concert, Daryl was baptized. As promised, William McDowell and Gladys Knight both attended, and William spoke at the ceremony.
Daryl with his four children on his baptism day.
Rachel warned Daryl that joining the Church would come with opposition. He kind of laughed it off at first, but she was right. As soon as they set a temple date, everything that could go wrong went wrong.
“And not in a little way. Like in magnificent ways,” Rachel said. Little things that would normally blow over instead blew out of proportion as the temple date loomed closer and closer.
Most of the time Rachel and Daryl were able to see the opposition for what it was. They could stop in the middle of a crisis and say, “We know why this is happening, right?”
But two weeks before their sealing date, Daryl couldn’t see it. Things were hard, and so he packed his bags and left.
“I tell anybody and everybody that will listen to me. If you’re going to the temple, you’ve got to know ahead of time . . . [Satan] is going to bring hell fury and fire to keep you out of there,” Rachel said.
After Daryl left, Rachel called one of her husband’s close friends, Sam Harrison, a member of the Church whom Daryl greatly admires and trusts. The two men were able to talk over lunch, and Daryl came back. Two weeks later, Rachel and Daryl were sealed in the Gilbert Arizona Temple.
“[Satan] did not win,” Rachel said.
Daryl and Rachel planks on the day they were sealed in the temple.
Blessings of Being Mormon
“Our family is the biggest blessing,” Daryl said. “Rachel and I were close before, but we’ve connected on such a different level since this experience.”
Daryl and Rachel love watching their kids grow up learning about the gospel as well. “We’ll do a prayer or something and it's just incredible to see what’s happened to our family. We’re so much closer now. . . . The bond that we have . . . I didn’t think something like this would exist. But it’s incredible.”
Others have also been able to see the changes in Daryl. “When I married him, he was an incredible man,” Rachel said. “I didn’t think he could get better than he was. He is exponentially better.”
His youngest daughter put it this way: “Dad, you were cool before, but you’re like super dad now.”
It’s not just his family that can see the difference. A coworker told him once, “You seem different and I can’t place it. It’s not a bad different; you just seem at peace. What are you doing differently?”
“I got baptized,” Daryl said. “I’m a Mormon.”