Future of Mormonism
The Colorful LDS Future
Nonetheless, there are clear signs that we are making strides toward a glorious future. The clearest to date was the talk given by Gordon B. Hinckley in April 2006 during the Priesthood session of General Conference. In it, he rhetorically asked, "How can any man holding the Melchizedek priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for that priesthood, whereas another, who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?" That question has reverberations that should go far forward into the future, urging us to tell all of the stories of all of the Latter-day Saints, and to do better now than we did in the past.
We not only hope for a great future, we have complete faith that it will unfold. We believe that those African Americans who are serving in their regions will, before too long, serve the entire church, that the African American stories of faith will be equally valued with the Danish or German stories, that the leadership will reflect the global nature of the church, and that we will be able to talk not only about the lifting of the priesthood restriction, but about the faith and pain of those who for years lived on the Black side of that restriction.
The church is thriving in Africa, though retention there is also difficult (as it is everywhere). The challenges in Africa are not centered so much around charges of racism in the Mormon past as in the perception of the church as a cult and in the endemic problems of tribalism on the African continent. We have first-generation converts serving as missionaries in many areas, often bringing a limited understanding of the gospel with them. Their white companions teach them and frequently assume leadership roles, but that dynamic presents its own problems and reinforces the idea that the church, though multicultural, is yet headed by whites. Of course, in areas where the church has established its roots, we are seeing African missionaries who are seasoned in the faith, and who serve every bit as well as their Anglo counterparts. We also see white missionaries developing deep love for those they serve and those they serve with. All of this bodes well for the future, and will prove to be key in the changes that must come as the leadership fully reflects the membership.
The late Jacob Abel Chirwa, from Zambia, discussed these inevitable changes in an interview with Margaret Young in 2009:
I have always felt that there hasn't been enough encouragement for local artists to showcase their talent . . . One reason for this is the belief inculcated in the people that the only approved art com[es] from Utah. And so we sit to watch videos of stories of conversions as our missionaries do their work. This is well and good but I feel that watching a local missionary at work in any outside place would impact . . . our youth. I work in situations that expose me to a lot of challenges vis-à-vis the perception of the church in the eyes of the outside community, but all they see is me with no back up information in either print or electronic media. (Chirwa)
Chirwa's suggestion that the youth of Africa would be inspired by pictures of African missionaries, or stories in which the protagonist is African, bears consideration. As it happens, his own son was serving a mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the time Jacob wrote his observation. That son survived malaria and chicken pox during his mission, and then, near the end of his two years, learned that his father had died. Though Jacob Chirwa couldn't have predicted it, his own son's story could well be one that the LDS media decides to focus on, or be among many that get told in some future General Conference.