Nobody Knows–and So What?

Yes, it’s true. We have released Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. We aren’t in full distribution yet, but anyone can get a copy through me.

I think it’s a good and helpful documentary, but as one who believes in the principle of faith, I don’t think it’s essential. For any who have been troubled by race issues in the Church, we hope the documentary will be a balm. And it presents good information. But we certainly don’t present it as THE solution to questions which ultimately are between the seeker and God.

I think it’s a good thing to understand controversial issues and to be able to talk intelligently about them. If, however, our seeking is done in a spirit of anger or vindictivness (“You see? They’ve been lying all along–just like I thought!), then new information can be merely venom.

Some have suggested we show the documentary at the MTC. My response? Not on my watch. Missionaries are overwhelmed enough, thanks. There might be times and places AFTER they’ve hit up against some hard issues when our work could be of service, but it doesn’t belong in the MTC. (Where would you draw the line? Should we also have films about polygamy, the MMM, and Adam-God?)

Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and then choose to keep our commitment, renewing what led us to faith in the first place. If we stop at every difficult juncture, question every turn, or halt at every bit of disquieting information, we will be perpetually tempted to get angry because nobody warned us of (issue XYZ) earlier. Same thing with marriage. As the spouse reveals all sorts of flaws, we can choose either to love deeper or to say, “Well, you should have told me–and by the way, I’m outa here.”

I also believe missionaries need to trust their investigators. Their faith can stretch. We will NOT have all of the answers in this life. (How well do we REALLY understand the atonement?)

So, recognizing these limitations, I’m happy to make this announcement. Our baby has arrived. We think it’s adorable. And worth watching.


  1. margaret, i would LOVE to get a copy! please advise! thanks!

  2. How can I acquire the film, etc.?

  3. I’d be very interested in purchasing a copy. micahelggren at

  4. I’m at BYU. Margaret_Young at . Just e-mail me, or go to the documentary website (www.untoldstoryofblackmormons dot com)and push the “info” button. That mail comes directly to me.
    For the rest of you readers, I don’t want to use BCC as my sales table, so please contact me as I’ve just outlined.

    There are other places for this conversation to head–such as the value of innoculation–or not. Ripeness is all–but are missionaries anywhere near ripe?

  5. one of the main reasons i’d like a copy of the film is because we’ve been the go-to family for the missionaries when it comes to race issues within the church (not that we’re any sort of experts on the topic, just that we try to be informed and we’re open books when it comes to discussing such things). we’ve had the same set of missionaries at least six months and the junior companion has been in our ward over a year. they’ve struggled greatly with how to address issues with some of their converts because they don’t know much about the priesthood ban at all. one elder was completely oblivious and the other was decently informed, in my opinion, but still felt lacking. (incidentally, prior to his mission, this was his favorite blog… and he even read fmh!)

    i’m not sure that addressing such a topic in the mtc is appropriate. i’m trying to think when would be best… perhaps, as needed once they reach their mission? we used to live in south los angeles and obviously there was a need for the missionaries there to be at least aware of the race issues, so i could see there being a small amount of time spent covering at least the basics. but what about in a less homogeneous area? need it be addressed then? at least introduced? not at all?

  6. Congrats. I am sure that this will work will serve the LDS church well for years even generations to come. Your work has already in my own personal exp. been of benefit to many that have struggled with this issue.

  7. Re: The showing of Nobody Knows:

    I see no need to show the film in the MTC, but it might be helpful as a resource for a Mission President whose mission includes a large number of African Americans and/or international blacks to keep on hand in case questions arise among missionaries and/or investigators.

    Re: This line from you post:

    Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and then choose to keep our commitment, renewing what led us to faith in the first place. If we stop at every difficult juncture, question every turn, or halt at every bit of disquieting information, we will be perpetually tempted to get angry because nobody warned us of (issue XYZ) earlier.

    Thank you for that.

  8. Fantastic post–I look forward to the comments. By the way, I loved the books, and now I look forward to the film. Great work. And now, you’ve raised some great questions in this post…

  9. I dunno, Margaret. Missionaries have had a good five years or more as semi-thinking young people to absorb all the dreck that goes across the pulpit as “doctrine” and that doesn’t get corrected, for whatever reason. Maybe the whole video would be overkill, but a lesson or two on “hard things you will hear on your mission” could go a long way toward helping the missionaries AND the people they are teaching.

  10. proponent of innoculation says:

    It might be helpful as a resource for a Mission President whose mission includes a large number of African Americans and/or international blacks to keep on hand in case questions arise among missionaries and/or investigators.

    You mean mission presidents in most of the east, west and gulf coasts and all urban areas in the US and Europe, not to mention Brazil, the Caribbean, and the continent of Africa?

    Should we also have films about polygamy, the MMM, and Adam-God?

    Yes. It makes the Church look ridiculous when we send out representatives who are ignorant of the main issues investigators will ask about once they hit Google. Not to mention how it makes missionaries feel when they find out how ill-prepared they really were -or how the converts feel when they find out about these things.

    If that reduces the number of missionaries and/or converts, so be it.

  11. Brandon T. says:

    I agree with your decision regarding the MTC. I served in many of the inner city areas of D.C. and made it a point to know the issue, but the only time it ever came up was when we discussed it amongst ourselves as missionaries.

  12. I agree with your thoughts about inoculation to an extent. The problem I see is that many missionaries (I was one) go out thinking they know so much more than any investigator, thinking that the Church is perfect, thinking that any criticism or skeleton from the closet is just “antis at work.” A little bit of inoculation might be helpful. (But I agree it would be difficult to know which issue to address.)

    So count me in with Ann, #9.

  13. Congratulations, Margaret.

  14. What about showing it to senior missionaries? They could be an awesome resource for the younger missionaries to use. I know my in-laws (in the West Indies) were disappointed that they didn’t get a chance to see it before they left (I’ll hopefully be sending them a copy soon).

  15. Latter-day Guy says:

    Should we also have films about polygamy, the MMM, and Adam-God?

    Films? No. Facts? Yes.

    I spoke with a man the other day who had asked a missionary if Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. The missionary said, emphatically, no. Adam-God isn’t such an issue; MMM is only a little one, really; Polygamy is still huge. Missionaries should actually know their history––most don’t.

  16. Few teenagers even know their own family’s history. I love what “Preach My Gospel” does. Darius and I have spoken to seasoned missionaries in the field. They were ready and had excellent questions, and we might have been of help to them. I’m on my way now to meet with new missionaries. Right now, I just want them to be inspired and hopeful. To every thing there is a season…

  17. “Shiny happy people holding hands,
    Shiny happy people laughing…”

  18. What, you mean our seminary programs aren’t teaching kids about church history?

  19. I wonder if the MTC is supposed to just be a quick “how to teach people basics of the church” kind of approach. I think it is probably a blessing that most missionaries don’t know the other stuff–without the full context it might come off inaccurately anyway. I do think a list of reliable resources might be good for missionaries to share with their investigators but I would rather have them stick with “Hi, we believe in God? Do you too?”

    But I am looking forward to checking it out it myself!

  20. I’d rather have a 20-year-old defer the sidebar questions to members to answer, rather than attempt to answer them and make a mess of it.

    Missionaries are to proclaim the gospel, not channel their inner apologist.

  21. Congratulations.

  22. Hmm, typoed my own name.

  23. What’s the name and location of your pharmacy, Stephen?

  24. Latter-day Guy says:

    Missionaries are to proclaim the gospel, not channel their inner apologist.

    I don’t think that these are mutually exclusive. In fact, I am not arguing for missionaries as apologists with carefully nuanced approaches to difficult historical/theological questions. I do think missionaries should be fairly well informed. There is value in saying, “Yes, Joseph Smith did have plural wives [or insert issue here]. I understand how you might be bothered by that. Most LDS people have to come to some kind of reconciliation with that fact.” As opposed to: “What? No, he never… Really? Serious?” They need to be able to guide people––not answer every question.

    Few teenagers even know their own family’s history.

    True. But surely… you aren’t suggesting it is desirable to be uniformed of one’s own family history? I think we can (and do in many ways) hold missionaries to a higher standard than their peers. A better grasp of church history might be just one area where the program could be improved.

  25. Latter-day Guy (24) –

    But where should that basic education begin? In a three-week MTC crash session? Should we make them pass a test before they can go into the field?

    So say it happens in the MTC? How long do you really want to keep them?

    To be honest, I’m more impressed by the missionary who can effectively say, “You know what? I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter.” No one joins the Church because an apologist defends JS’ polygamy.

  26. 25.
    Amen! A liberating moment for me was when I realized that I don’t need to turn from what I do know — like the “mighty change” of my heart and nature — for what I don’t (yet) know.

  27. Margaret,

    Quoting that great black philospher who is not MLK, Etta James, “At Last…”!!!

    You will have our order shortly.

    BTW, this is a good forum to say that my fiancee and I will marry this Saturday.

  28. #27–What a perfect quote :-)

    And congrats on your soon-to-be marriage, how exciting!

  29. I’m just home from the MTC and headed to bed now. But what wonderful news, Manean! I will be thinkiong of you on Saturday.

    I’m still basking in missionary light. Sorry, can’t think about much more right now–just how much I love them.

  30. Latter-day Guy says:

    But where should that basic education begin? In a three-week MTC crash session? Should we make them pass a test before they can go into the field?

    It should begin early. Seminary? Childhood? The MTC (as I’m sure you’ll agree) is not the place to be learning the gospel for the first time––they’re there to learn how to present it. Similarly, the first time one hears of church history shouldn’t be when you’re 19 or 21. That being said, I don’t see anything wrong with taking an hour or two to discuss how to deal with hard questions.

    They already should be passing an interview. It does not only concern worthiness, but also ought to address emotional, physical and MENTAL preparation.

    Again, I don’t think a missionary needs to be some kind of theological/historical/apologetics wunderkind. I do think they should be aware of some of the tough issues. If it matters to the investigator, then it does matter. Those they teach ought to see a missionary’s example of faith in the face of whatever issues there are; not just a missionary who stays faithful by being unaware of the issues. There is real value in showing someone (if these issues do come up) that they are not the first to be concerned by them.

  31. Wonderful news, Margaret!

  32. My check is in the mail.

    Resources like this are of great value to the LDS community in general. We, the LDS community, need to support this kind of thing and we need to take on all of the hard, unpleasant and difficult topics head on. If we do this, then our enemies will have no purchase on us.

    As far as missionaries go, it would be nice and good if they knew everything about everything. But they dont, and cannot. What is essential is they be humble and have the Spirit. If they do not have the Spirit, they cannot teach by the Spirit, and none will be edified. Missionaries do not need anything else, and that is why we send out young kids who know relatively little compared to us old grey heads. We grey heads need to make ourselves available to them to assist them when they face tough questions, that is our responsibility, not theirs. And, Margaret, you have succeeded marvelously in this. Thank you.

  33. Thank you, Extreme Dorito. And Latter-day Guy, I think you make excellent points, though I do think such innoculation would be better done in the field. And yes, it shouldn’t be the first time missionaries come across the hard stuff. I was raised with parents who constantly posed difficult questions (“What would you do if…?”) and who themselves knew the hard stuff–so it was around. I was innoculated simply by being in my particular family. Mom and Dad subscribed to _Dialogue_, and I read Lester BUsh’s article when it first came out. I remember reading it on my bed and thinking simply, “Oh, that’s what happened.” I was relieved, actually, to get the history. My racist seminary teacher was far more a trial to my faith than was Bush’s article.

    Finally, what we really do in the MTC is to point these young people towards discipleship. Yes, they learn how to present the gospel, but more importantly, they focus on becoming disciples. Chapter 6 of _Preach My Gospel_ is all about Christlike attributes. We don’t have the memorized discussions anymore. I am always in awe of the missionaries. I’m sure I idealize them. I wonder what it’ll be like for me to see them after their missions. I wrote to the friend of one, “I can’t really picture him wearing jeans or eating hamburgers.”

  34. #32: Just because someone asks you a “hard, unpleasant or difficult question, does not make them your enemy. Maybe they just want to know.
    I do think there are only a few hard questions that should be covered in the MTC. Keep in mind, many times there are no “old grey heads” available…you are It!

  35. Bro. Jones says:

    #33 I agree–it seems like the best place to learn about tough questions is in the field, ideally from the Mission President and/or AMPs. Those folks will (in theory) have a good understanding of the needs of a particular mission.

    Having said that, I don’t feel like it would be a bad thing to have an expectation of a “field orientation” for missionaries new in the field, both for hard questions and just a general orientation to the particular mission. I’ve heard stories of missionaries getting off a plane, being picked up by the mission president, and then taken directly to appointments or tracting. Call me a softy, but I feel like we’d help the “greenies” transition better with even a day of mission-specific training.

  36. As a missionary I was prepared for many of the “hard” questions from study of material long before entering the MTC – including anti-Mormon literature. I knew missionaries who knew far more about the “hard” questions than I did with lots of study. There were discussions I was part of that included more than what was between the covers of the missionary lesson manuals.

    The come away lesson from all of that? No matter how much you knew and no matter how much “apologia” you had at your finger tips, it didn’t matter. Long diatribes of apologia brought no more baptisms than a simple gospel discussion. Keeping them in the Church? That might be a different story, I don’t know.

  37. I served my mission in a mission where the population, for all intents and purposes, was all of African descent. The Church was relatively young there and we were several countries away from the mission home.

    The priesthood question was raised frequently and we handled it the best we could. I knew members both before and during my mission who struggled with it. I don’t believe there is a trainable response.

    There is a film that we showed regularly called “Lives of Service” which featured only African members or members of African descent. While it doesn’t address the priesthood question directly, it features only Saints of African descent.

    The Church has been successful there, and all of the membership is aware of the history of the priesthood ban. The branch that I left when I returned home was similarly sized to my home branch, and there were 8 members who left on full time missions the follow year. That was more than had left from my little home branch since it had been organized many years earlier.

    I recently received a letter from a sister who started with the introduction, “you may not remember me, but you taught me the discussions and i was baptized after you left.” She gave me a full update and spoke of that little branch soon becoming a stake.

    I don’t think that the MTC is the place to “sensitize” missionaries to the issues that might arise. Some of the best pre-MTC advice I ever heard was the that “the MTC is not about learning the language, or the doctrine.” It is a spiritual hothouse to prepare missionaries to enter the mission field. The MTC should and can be as spiritual place as the mission field, if a missionary is prepared and will let it be so.

  38. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    I think that the responsibility for this should come through CES in the form of better-prepped Institute instructors and lessons, and through devotionals and professors at the various BYUs. Most people in the Church trust what they learn through CES’s programs, and seminary is probably too early to get into nuances and details. Once we start having college students who are taught such things I think it will spread quickly through the rest of the membership in a sort of “grassroots” style. I am grateful for this documentary and look forward to finally getting to see it.

  39. Antonio Parr says:

    The post-Atonment denial of the priesthood to Blacks is so doctrinally problematic that I can understand why the Church/MTC would want to pretend like it never happened. But it did, and in order to have credibility with others, we need to own up to the practice and have a resposne. Mine is one that most of you would probably renounce, i.e., that we were wrong on this one. Period.

    (My very devote oldest daughter — who has never once questioned the Church; loves being LDS; attends every meeting with good cheer; etc. — once spoke to me about the difficulties that an African American friend was experiencing as a student at BYU. The issue of the Priesthood ban came up, and I said “honey, I know that I am prone to question things, but in this case, I think that we were just plain wrong.” To which my devout, faithful daughter responded (and I will never forget this): “No duh . . .

    From the mouths of babes . . .

  40. just Jazz says:

    38.I think that the responsibility for this should come through CES

    I agree wholeheartedly. It’s like the question is, at what point is it ok to talk about the truth? The “problem” is there is an official ‘no comment’ on the truth. As long as the “official” posture remains as it currently stands (and for the life of me I don’t understand why it is such a big deal to finally admit that we do not have a “perfect” history)we will continue to have this conversation.

  41. Left Field says:

    There’s a lot to be said for just incorporating an understanding of so-called “problematic” material into our teaching and culture without putting it in a big package labeled “problems.”

    The first time I remember reading about “alternate” First Vision accounts was in this article in the New Era. It never occurred to me that the accounts were some sort of problem.

    My 9-year-old son came home from Primary just this week with a handout listing 13 “Discussion and Application Questions” from his Primary lesson. Question 7 was “What was deposited with the gold plates? (JS-H 1:35).” His written response: “Urim and Thummin and the seer stones.” My only quibble with the answer would be the implication that there were seerstones with the plates other than those contained in the Urim and Thummim. But at least he won’t first hear about seerstones on South Park.

    Seerstones and variations in First Vision accounts are really No Big Deal, but if we leave lacunae in our teaching, our critics are only too happy to fill in the blanks with their own spin on things. There are of course, other issues (e.g., race, polygamy, Mountain Meadows) that are more challenging, but we ought not leave blank spaces there, either. It would be well if missionaries have encountered some of this stuff before they ever get to the MTC.

  42. Margaret,

    May I suggest that it be shown at mission president training week (is it still a week?), rather than to missionaries at the MTC. I think that the film is a great resource for mission presidents to have available for any of their missionaries who may be questioning, or have investigators who are questioning. But I think that it would be overwhelming for the vast majority of missionaries.

  43. It is still a week, Kari–an extremely heavy week. I doubt they’d be interested, but I can ask. Thanks.

  44. Adam Greenwood says:

    Congratulations, and I love how you frame the project here.

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