The Genesis Group was established on October 19, 1971. President Monson, then a junior apostle, said this at the inaugural meeting:
The Genesis Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1971 as a response to needs identified by a small group of black members working with three junior members of the Quorum of The Twelve.
Under the direction of Church President Joseph Fielding Smith, six men, three of them Apostles, three of them Black converts, met and discussed what actions could be taken to support Negro Mormons. Many Negro members in the Salt Lake valley were descendants of early pioneers who had joined the church when young, only to become discouraged and inactive by 1971. Not wanting the same fate to befall new members and with the hope of reactivating some of the descendants of Black pioneers, Genesis was formed.
Special care was taken by all, that this effort not be seen as an attempt to segregate the races. The goal was to retain Negro members and provide a mechanism for their growth. Although few leaders of the church today were involved with, or even aware of these efforts, all might wonder if the events that followed seven years later, in June 1978, weren’t rooted in the decision to form the Genesis Group.
While unique, the structure of the organization was established by the presiding bodies of The Church. The night the Genesis Presidency was called and sustained the other elements of this “Dependent Branch” were also launched. They included the relief society, the young men’s and young women’s organizations, music department (chorister and organist) ect.
The justification for support organizations like Genesis — or the Norwegian and Danish Branches with which Genesis shared a building — is to provide a safety net while people of different backgrounds adapted to one another. There are significant cultural differences between the “Black Church” experience and a typical LDS service, and it helps to remember there is also a distinction between “church culture” and the restored Gospel of Christ.
The tenets of the faith are for all people including African Americans, but within this group, retention is an ongoing problem. Generally, Black Latter-day Saints are a geographically scattered patchwork of individuals with little social support. In these circumstances it has proven beneficial to foster fellowship with other Blacks on a periodic basis. By reaffirming the Gospel with those of similar background and experience, brothers and sisters, who suffer from a sense of isolation, can find reassurance so that tender hearts can be soothed.
For many Africa-American Latter-day Saints, this is not a dispassionate organizational matter, but rather a very personal approach to remembering who we are, both spiritually and culturally. In certain cases the survival of testimonies are at stake. We recognize there are differing views concerning ethnic units within the Church, but the tangible issues of retention and respect for various cultures are also to be remembered.
It should be expected that not all Black members would elect to become involved with such a group. African-Americans are no more a monolithic, homogeneous body than any other ethnicity. But for some there is absolute value in being able to glance over and see someone who looks like you.
The charge given the first Genesis President, Ruffin Bridgeforth, was to reach out in support of Negro members, to encourage their growth and activity within the church. He was to be a mentor, advocate and ally. From the beginning The Genesis Group wasn’t a full ecclesiastical operating unit of the church, but it was not an auxiliary like the relief society. It was and is totally unique within The Church.
After the death of President Bridgeforth in March of 1997, first counselor, Darius Gray contacted Church President Gordon B. Hinckley about the organization’s future. Elder Boyd K.Packer spoke for the Brethren and indicated their desire to have the group continue with the same structure and mandate as in the past. A year later, in March of 1998, President Gray engaged in a series of meetings and correspondence and asked for a “compass check” concerning the group. He was told, “The senior Brethren have full faith and confidence in you” and “They trust and respect you fully.” President Gray was instructed to continue with the established goals.
The Genesis Group is unusual. In fact, we are unique. But considering the origins of our structure and the several affirmations of it correctness, there must be a purpose. We are afforded great flexibility and great latitude. We serve as directed by the leaders of The Church and by the guidance of God.