The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #55

Q. Are there any Mormon leaders who are black?

With the exception of Elijah Abel, who was a Seventy from the days of Joseph Smith until his death, and a few others, there was no black Priesthood-officers until 1978. With the exception of Elijah Abel and his male descendants, and one or two others we have little knowledge of, there were no black Priesthood-holders until 1978.

Since the Revelation in 1978, there have been black Priesthood-officers who have served as Bishops, Stake Presidents, District Presidents, Mission Presidents, Branch Presidents, and the like. These are local Church authorities. The only black General Authority (Church official with general, universal, or Church-wide jurisdiction) to date (2000 A.D.) has been Brother Helvecio Martins.

Brother Martins was born in 1930, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is an Afro-Brazilian; a descendants of black slaves brought from Africa to Brasil in the 18th and 19th centuries. He is not a Mulatto, but a full-blooded Negro. Brazil ended slavery in 1888.Although he stared working at age 12 (1942) , to help support his family, Br. Martins continued to going to school; often at night. Through self-determination and hard work, he arose from an errand-boy to a top executive of Brazil’s major gas and oil company; becoming one of Brasil’s elite in 1972.

But financial and social success left him and his wife Ruda spiritually empty. They became followers of Macamba; a popular Brazilian religion based upon Yoruban (West African) Spiritualism and Roman Catholicism. But a particular incident caused them to leave Macamba, and become Seekers of Truth. Br. Martins writes:

“We finally decided to leave the group altogether when, after Ruda’s mother died, the group held a seance. Over the course of the meeting, Ruda’s older sister was supposedly possessed by the spirit of my mother-in-law. When vulgarity spewed from her mouth, Ruda and I realized that this ‘spirit’ could not be the woman we knew as Ruda’s mother. The whole thing was a sham.” (The Autobiography of Elder Helvecio Martins, p.40)

Brother and Sister Martins then began attending various churches; Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and so forth. They were seeking ‘something’. They didn’t know what. One day, while in a traffic jam in Rio, Br. Martins prayed to God:

“My God, I know you are there some place, but I don’t know where. Is it possible you don’t see the confusion my family and I are experiencing? It is possible you don’t realize we are searching for something and that we don’t even know what it is? Why don’t you help us? Why don’t you help us find that something which will bring relief, satisfaction, joy?” (Martins, p.41)

Two weeks later Mormon missionaries knocked at their door. Br. Martins remembers that the moment the two young elders entered their home the spiritual gloom and confusion disappeared. Br. Martins writes:

“After everyone was seated, the missionaries said they were representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ and that they had a blessing for our family if we would like one. I told them yes, but stated that I first had some questions I would like them to answer.

Given that your church is headquartered in the United States,’ I began, ‘a country with a history of racial conflict, how does your religion treat blacks?’ The year was 1972--six years prior to the priesthood revelation allowing blacks to hold the priesthood. Elder McIntire initially went red in the face [blushed] and nervously squirmed in his chair. Then, he asked our permission to have a prayer, which we agreed to, and afterward began giving what I know realize was the first missionary discussion. The elders continued talking. I kept asking questions, the most pertinent of which they responded to. Before we knew it, the hour was one in the morning, and those missionaries had given us, I again realize in retrospect, most of the missionary lessons. During that four-and-a-half hour discussion, we dealt with the issue of blacks and the priesthood. The missionaries’ explanation seemed clear to me, and, more important, I accepted the practice as the will of the Lord.” (Martins, p.44)

If any black man had a right to be proud it was Helvecio Martins; a man who lifted himself up by his own bootstraps from poverty to becoming one of Brasil’s elite. He could have gotten angry at the missionaries when they told him that black men could not hold the Priesthood in the LDS Church. He could have called them ‘racists’ and thrown them out by their ears. Instead, he listened to the Holy Spirit. That is why one of the elders had all of them pray before an explanation was given; to invite the Holy Spirit into the discussion; so that He could testify to the truth. Brother and Sister Martins recognized this witness of the Spirit, and instead of getting mad or upset because their prides were hurt, they humbly accepted the Priesthood ban as the Will of God.

Br. Martins invited the missionaries back for further discussions, and soon he and his family were baptized into the Church. Br. Martins writes:

“The Holy Ghost confirmed to us that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the kingdom of God on earth.” (Martins, p.46)

Although not even able to become a Deacon in the Church, Brother Martins was soon called to be a Gospel Doctrine Teacher; a non-priesthood position. After several years, he was appointed to become one of the two Public Affairs Directors for the Church in Brazil.

Although not expecting to receive the Priesthood in his mortal life, it came on June 8th 1978; with the Revelation of the LORD to President Spencer W. Kimball. Brother and Sister Martins were soon sealed in the Sao Paulo Temple for time and all eternity; with their children. Their son became one of the first group of black Mormon missionaries since Elijah Abel. Br. Martins served later as Bishop, Counselor in a Stake Presidency, and as a Mission President in Fortaleza, Brasil. He saw miracles occur in his life, in the lives of his family, and in the lives of others also by the authority of the Priesthood which he held.

On March 23rd, 1990, Br. Martins was called to become a Seventy; a member of the Second Quorum of Seventy: the 5th highest council in the LDS Church. Brother Martins became Elder Martins; a General Authority in the Church (the rough equivalent of a general in an army).

*Exceeding Faith Brings Rewards

Because of Elder Martins exceeding faith he and his wife and family were rewarded exceedingly; with miracles, with success, and with becoming leaders in the Church. But the ultimate reward is Eternal Life.

The door is open for other black men to become General Authorities. But the Church isn’t going to place them into that position just for show. They must earn it; through their faith and diligence, and enduring to the end.

The LORD has said to the Elders of the Church:

“And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine Elect; for mine Elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;....” (D&C 29:7)

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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