Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black History Month: Peter M. Johnson Becomes The First Black LDS Stake President In Alabama History

Screenshot of Johnson
For those of you who care about Black History Month, you might be interested to know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made some black history in Alabama. Peter M. Johnson, an Ernst and Young Fellow and assistant professor of accounting at the Culverhouse School of Accountancy at the University of Alabama, has been called to serve as the President of the Bessemer Alabama Stake and was unanimously sustained on January 13th, 2013. He is the first black stake president in the history of Alabama. The Bessemer Stake covers west Alabama from Bessemer to the Mississippi state line, east to Inverness, north to Cullman, and south to Demopolis. It includes 12 congregations with a combined membership of 3,716.

Johnson, who is married with four kids, was quick to note that blacks were becoming more common in leadership positions throughout the Church. He also said, "The family is important. My family is an important part of who I am and who I want to become... strengthening home and family through the teachings of the Savior, Jesus Christ, is a central part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That's one of our primary goals."

Since the LDS Church did not begin extending Priesthood membership to otherwise worthy black men until 1978, it has understandably taken a while for black men to begin percolating their way up into middle and upper level leadership positions. One commenter to the Salt Lake Tribune story decried the lack of diversity at the Church's senior leadership level, noting that there is only one black General Authority, Elder Joseph W. Sitati of Kenya, who is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, in a worldwide church containing 14 million members.

However, there is a legitimate reason for that so-called "lack of diversity". When the Priesthood ban was revoked in 1978, every black LDS man started at ground zero. First, they had the Aaronic Priesthood conferred upon them, then the Melchizedek Priesthood, after which they were ordained to the office of Elder. But just as people who enlist in the military aren't immediately selected to serve as commanders or member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so these newly-minted black Priesthood holders couldn't be immediately called as stake presidents or General Authorities. There's a time-tested apprenticeship. First, a two-year full-time mission for many of them. Then there's five to seven years of service in progressively more responsible and demanding callings such as youth advisory positions, ward clerkships, and elders quorum presidencies. After around 10 years, many are then called to be bishops or branch presidents, usually for a five-year term. Then, after a break in which they might serve in other positions, to include the stake high council, some will get called to be stake presidents. That can last for 5-10 years.

So this means a typical man who's ordained an elder will have to serve as long as 20-25 years before even being considered for service as a General Authority. As a matter of fact, Helvecio Martins, called to the First Quorum of the Seventy to become the first black General Authority in 1990, actually advanced faster than most who are eventually called as General Authorities. More typical is the case of Elder Sitati, who was called to the Seventy in 2009, 31 years after the Priesthood ban was lifted. So you can be certain that the senior leadership of the LDS Church is always looking for worthy men of all races for advancement. Those who think otherwise have been manipulated by Satan to sow dissension within LDS ranks and frustrate the work of the Lord. Blacklds.org provides an LDS black history timeline that's of interest.

Alabama has come a long way since that day in August 1963 when then-Gov. George Wallace stood at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in a symbolic attempt to block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling at the school.

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