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Religion professor publishes introspective on Blacks, Priesthood

Friday, 31 August 2007

Mike Foley | University Advancement | 31 August 2007

Dr. Marcus H. Martins, chairman of the BYU-Hawaii Department of Religious Education, has just published a personal introspective and doctrinal commentary entitled Setting the Record Straight: Blacks & the Mormon Priesthood.

Dr. Martins, a Brazilian of African and European descent who is originally from Rio de Janeiro, explained the 88-page booklet is part of a series by Millennial Press & Distribution of Orem, Utah, that includes treatments on Masons, polygamy, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. His book, which has already gone into a second printing, is available at the BYU-Hawaii Bookstore as well as other Latter-day Saint bookstores, and can also be purchased online.

"This book is essentially a synthesis of several lectures and papers I've done on the Priesthood ban and race relations, given the impact of globalization on the Church. There's also a great deal of personal experience in the text." For example, Dr. Martins noted he and his parents "were willing to accept anything the missionaries explained to us" in 1972 when they joined the Church — six years before President Spencer W. Kimball announced on June 8, 1978, that all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood... Prior to that time, the Church did not knowingly bestow the Priesthood on male members of Black African heritage.

"For those of us who joined the Church then, our view was, okay, God must know what He's doing. We found the truth, and if...the price of admission was a denial of Priesthood privileges, we were willing to pay that price. We never articulated it that way, but in retrospect, this was essentially the actions of my parents and me," said Dr. Martins, whose father, the late Elder Helvecio Martins, eventually became a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

Dr. Martins also explained that in contrast to demonstrations and boycotts the Church Priesthood policy spurred in the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s, in Brazil there was no segregation or civil rights movement; and "in 1978 the Church only had about 50,000 members. In 1995 when I was collecting information for my [BYU] doctoral dissertation [on the sociology of religion and race and ethnic relations], and I interviewed several men who were Priesthood leaders then, to my surprise every single one of them said the revelation per se was not a major factor in the growth of the Church in Brazil," which today has approximately one million members.

However, he did say as a BYU student first encountering some of the historical statements on the Priesthood ban that had not been available in Brazil, he was "shaken up, but at the same time I was also thankful I had a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. They said what they said because that is what they thought was right."

"People ask, 'How do you make sense of those statements of the leaders from the past?' It's a matter of having a chronological perspective. A lot of the statements reflect the general state of affairs. They said what they said, according to the information they had at the time. Today, we have the benefit of hindsight."

Asked if his book explains why there was a ban, Dr. Martins responded, "No. I address the fact that we don't know why to this day. We know of a lot of hypothetical reasons. A lot of people tried to develop their own reasons, which is a problem some still have. There were articles and books published by authors who later became General Authorities, who advocated their own ideas, which today we find objectionable. A hundred years ago they were okay. Those were their personal hypotheses...and this is where a lot of hypothetical reasons come from now. Some of them became popularized."

"As a Church, we are becoming more educated about the Gospel," he continued. "I can see in our literature, especially over the past 30 years, how our top leaders are extremely careful in how they express personal opinions. The books they write, or are compiled with their talks, clearly state the author is personally responsible for the contents, and they do not constitute official statements from the Church."

Dr. Martins said his new book gives insights on several key points:

  • "The Priesthood ban was not part of the Gospel. It's up to the Lord who He gives His Priesthood to, and when, and under what conditions."
  • "The Gospel has universal application, and the 1978 revelation confirms that."
  • "The book provides a doctrinal foundation for race and ethnic relations in the Church, and how we should see each other."

"It's nothing really new," Dr. Martins said. "We're all children of God. We're all brothers and sisters. From an eternal perspective, we should take that literally. As we come together as members of the Church, we have a lot to learn from each other."

"That's what's happening at BYU-Hawaii. It's one of things that brings me great joy here, because we see it happening right now."

Dr. Martins added he hopes it also happens to the general membership of the Church in time. Until then, he dedicated the book to his young granddaughter, "in the hopes that her generation will find it important, but no longer necessary."