In an article in the March 2012 Ensign (excerpted from an address delivered during a regional stake and district conference broadcast to Africa on 21 Nov 2010), Elder Dallin H. Oaks makes some timely and interesting instructions to LDS Church members living Africa. Some of the comments I totally agree with, others (largely omissions) cause me some heartburn:
To help its members all over the world, the Church teaches us to give up any personal or family traditions or practices that are contrary to the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ and to this gospel culture. . .
Practices he encouraged members to give up include: purchasing brides, wives supporting lazy husbands, and spending too much money on weddings and funerals. All good suggestions.
But there is one important area that Elder Oaks failed to discuss, the possible softening of some LDS non-doctrinal quirks to accommodate Africans. If you look at the photographs in the Ensign that accompany the article, you see men dressed in white shirts, ties, and black pants (some in black suit coats). This seems so wrong for several reasons:
- Dressing like this can be a financial burden
- It makes the male members look like morticians
- This is not a style of clothing commonly worn in Africa, it looks more like a reminant of the colonial era.
- It is hot and humid in Africa, why not encourage the men to wear more comfortable clothes?
Ironically, the women in Ensign photographs seem to be wearing more traditional clothing. So why not encourage the men to do the same?
There is also the issue of the Mormon Church service. Why not make some allowances for more upbeat hymns, different instruments (Africans like drums), and more demonstrative services. If the Mormon Church expects its members to make some cultural changes, then why shouldn’t the Church be expected to do the same? Some non-doctrinal flexibility would certainly enhance the missionary program in Africa.
According to an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the SLTrib (28 Mar 2012):
Pentecostals, Adventists and Jehovah’s Witness, all of whom have been in Africa longer, are drawing away members from the dominant Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant faiths. . .
“The Witnesses are growing faster around the world than the LDS, particularly in Africa,” says Gerald McDermott, professor of religion at Roanoke College in Virginia. “They start with leadership that is much more nonwhite and have much more racial diversity overall, whereas Mormonism is seen as an American faith.”
Pentecostalism, which is sweeping the global south, has much more to offer than Mormonism–women preachers, small gatherings and easy accommodation of African traditions, says McDermott. . . .
While the Utah-based church’s claim that God still speaks today may sound exciting and different to traditional Lutherans, Methodists or Presbyterians, he says, “If you’re Pentacostal and getting revelations all the time, this is nothing new.”
Elder Oaks in his article goes on to encourage Africans and others to stay, when possible, in their own countries, “to build up the Church in their homelands.” That is one of the reasons behind constructing temples all over the world. While temples are important, so is getting a good technical or college education. I would hope that the LDS Church would one day construct a college (or colleges) in Africa.
The African continent could also use a lot more aid from LDS Humanitarian Services. I agree with Elder Oaks:
What a different world it would be if brotherly love and unselfish assistance could cross over all boundaries of tribe, nation, creed, and color
I’m glad the LDS Church is giving increasing thought to its African members and future members.