Instead of experiencing cultural growing pangs, people should experience gathering pangs and become one people through spiritual unity, said the project director for the LDS Afro-American oral history project at Brigham Young University.
"God established cultures and we refine it upward or downward," Alan Cherry said during a panel discussion at the BYU Women's Conference. "It wouldn't be suitable to have a society without cultures."Friday's discussion "Cultural Individuality and Spiritual Community: Becoming Fellow Citizens with the Saints" included Cherry; Darlene Oliver, who is one-quarter Sioux Indian; and Linda Charney, an LDS convert from Judaism.
Cherry compared the black Latter-day Saint to the pinch hitter in a baseball game who is given one moment to shine, but only during a crisis moment. Like pinch hitters, blacks were not initiated from the beginning of the game, but introduced along the way.
Because of this, many black members are afraid of not fitting in, he said.
In his work at the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at BYU, Cherry has interviewed 225 black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to gain a sense of their role in the church and its effect on their lives.
Many people think that since 1978, when the priesthood was extended to all worthy males of the Church, all is wonderful, Cherry said. "I'm here to tell you that is not so. Many are still distraught and insecure."
He said most feel they had to sacrifice their Special Interest dependency and change their mannerisms and language so they could communicate with those around them.
When Oliver joined the LDS Church, she said the only part of her life that she gave up were her sins. She gained an identity and self-esteem along with a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because Indians have strong family ties and a belief in things of a spiritual nature, Oliver's conversion came easier than most would anticipate.
"Many tribal people are not any different than many of you in this room, except for some of their values," she said. "Indians tend to be more relaxed in their time orientation. In order to live in the white man's world, they need to adapt Indian values to a white world."
For Charney, reclaiming her Jewish roots came after she redefined Judaism. "I left behind a lot of misconceptions of Christianity and brought with me a certain sense of continuity and purpose."
According to Charney, a research associate for the Research and Evaluation Division of the LDS Church, the conversion process entails both a personal and institutional religiosity.
She compared her personal conversion to a prism, saying that she saw the world in new colors with the eyes of the spirit.
"Then began my adventure in the institutional church," Charney said. She didn't know what to expect, but found the church as an institution to be less frightening than she anticipated.
"I have always been treated with specialness because of my Judaism," she said. "I have never felt any form of discrimination."
However, Charney did say she is hypersensitive to one thing. "When people ask how the Jews could have killed Christ, they don't think they are talking about me because I have accepted Mormonism. But they are talking about my family.