The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a complicated history with race. In 1852, church leader Brigham Young announced that men of African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, which is an important milestone for male members of the church, and black men and women were banned from participating in other meaningful church practices until 1978.
The church is still unpacking this and other parts of its history, and releasing a series of essays that explain controversial elements of its past. In a 2013 essay titled "Race and the Priesthood," the church explained that the ban was enacted during an era of great racial divide. It also strongly renounced the belief that black people were spiritually inferior to white people. "Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form," the statement said.
While the LDS church is growing in leaps and bounds outside of the United States, its racial diversity within America hasn't changed significantly in recent years. The church is still overwhelmingly white. Only 14 percent of American Mormons were non-white in 2007, compared to 15 percent in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
As a black Mormon feminist, Mica McGriggs' experience of her faith has been vastly different from that of her peers.
McGriggs, a 25-year-old LDS member, grew up in what is often called the "Mormon Corridor," a region in the West settled by Mormon pioneers that encompasses Utah, where the church is headquartered, and spreads out into Idaho, California, Wyoming and Nevada.
She spoke to HuffPost Religion about what it was like to grow up as a black woman in the LDS church. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
1. Tell us about yourself. Were you born into an LDS family. Was faith a big part of your childhood?
My mother is white and has pioneer ancestry, and my father is an African-American convert to the church. They divorced when I was young, but I grew up in a very active home with my mother and grandparents. I am an only child. We were very involved with church activities. I would describe my family as very faithful and dedicated, but down to earth. I completed all of the Mormon milestones during my youth. I was baptized in the church. I was a leader of my Young Women's group, a youth organization for the church. I completed Personal Progress, a goal-setting and achievement program that helps young Mormon women develop holy habits. I was just 14, which is early. I went to Young Women camp and graduated from Seminary, a four-year religious education program for teens.
2.You attend Brigham Young University. But it was Brigham Young who announced in 1852 that black men could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. How do you feel about that? Do you think Mormons talk enough about the church’s past struggles with racism?
I do attend BYU, and Brigham Young held many racist beliefs. I don't think we talk about those enough. When we understand the context of his time and him as a person we gain a clearer picture of why and how the church carried out and passed on racist practices. The priesthood and temple ban was lifted in 1978, and until the essay the church released, many members acted as if we did not have such a racist and discriminatory past. It is a painful truth that my church did not see my full potential or value until 1978.
3. Have you experienced racism yourself from members of your ward or the wider LDS community?
I have in the past and continue to experience racism, mainly in the form of racial micro-aggressions. As an example: I am often told how articulate I am. This is a micro-aggression that is rooted in the false belief that in general, black people are not articulate. This and other micro-agressions are a regular occurrence for me.
4.What changed in the church after the publication of the “Race and the Priesthood” essay? What more needs to happen?
I don't see a monumental change due to the essay. It highlights history and disavows some of the historic and untrue teachings on race. Conversations are being had, which is a good thing. However, without an apology (which the essay lacks), no true healing can be found. An apology would be a balm for many.
5. You’ve spoken before about the “organizational patriarchy and hierarchy” of the church. Did this ever manifest itself in your own life? Do you think it holds Mormon women back?
The church is an organization that is operated through the lens of older white American men. It has blind spots due to its privilege in these areas. However, our membership is majority female residents of countries outside of the United States. If you are not reflected in your leadership it is difficult to trust that they are attending to your needs and interests. Yes, I believe that until the leadership is more broadly dispersed, women and people of color aren't able to reach their fullest potential as it pertains to their membership in the church.
I have felt invisible, pedestalized, misunderstood and harshly judged for being a woman of color, and I know of many who have felt similarly.
6. What do you believe the future of Mormonism looks like? What gives you hope for the church?
The future is hard to predict. However, if leadership will continue to listen, be more transparent about history and more inclusive of "the least of these" or those on the margins, its future is bright. If leadership is closed off and narrow in its approach, I think we will see more and more of our brothers and sisters leaving.
Overall, I am hopeful. I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and it has been delivered to me in the package of Mormonism. The LDS church is my spiritual home, and I am determined to stay and work to improve it. My circle of influence is microscopic, but it's mine and I will continue to reach out and speak up.