A couple months ago, the Mormon church decided to profile my brother for their “I’m A Mormon” campaign. A camera crew came to his house for an interview; now his profile and testimony are listed on the www.mormon.org website. My brother was thrilled about the opportunity --- he saw the honor as a mark of respect for his status as a member. On the other hand, I find myself feeling very uneasy about the matter.
At this point, I need to clarify. My brother is black. He was born in 1978, the same year that the Mormon church lifted its ban on blacks holding the priesthood. He joined our family when he was two years old. He grew up in a white family, in a predominantly white community, and was indoctrinated into a religion that has an uneasy racial history.
I love my brother. And he is, in every sense of the word, my brother. To give my parents their due, I never heard any indication, any hint that my brother was anything other than a full-fledged member of our family. We grew up together; I was a little girl tagging after her older brother with hero-worship shining in her eyes. Most of my family is very introverted and shy. In contrast, my brother was the life of the party, the person that lit up the room. A Will Smith look-a-like, he was charismatic, with the gift of putting people at ease.
In church, every time I learned about black people being descendants of Cain or being “fence-sitters” during the War in Heaven, my mind would always turn to my brother. These teachings left me confused and uncertain about the compassion of the religion I had been raised in. But even my perspective, infused by the love I had for my brother, was only a second-hand perspective. I can never truly understand the road my brother has had to travel in order to fit the teachings of the Church into his view of the world at large and his place within that world.
My brother never hinted that the teachings or attitudes at church hurt him; I suspect that he was trying to shield his little sister. But over the years I have watched him change from someone who was charismatic and out-going into someone who is obsessed with image and status. He is very much invested in the Mormon Church; he served a mission, married in the temple, and pressured his wife, a very talented biologist, into staying at home to raise their children. He has an over-whelming desire to be seen as the ultimate Mormon.
I hope that this opportunity helps bring my brother the affirmation that he wants. But every-time that I go to the www.mormon.org website or watch the commercials, I don’t see the church that I grew up in. I don’t see any hint of the over-whelming pressure to conform or the ugly white-centric doctrine that I was taught, that is still being taught today. All I see is a church trying to cover up their issues with a slick ad campaign.