Sitting in the pew, they sing:

Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; he knows the way.

Verse after verse goes by. I look around at all the people singing the words, each voice pronouncing each word with a profound reverence.

But I can’t.

Line by line, the God within cannot allow those words to leave my lips.

Ultimately, the lessons I learned through working with missionaries were God is good and a prophet radiates all that is good and glorious about God. But the prophet hasn’t always been good for all of us. For some, the words of the prophet have brought spiritual exclusion and exhaustion.

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: there has never been a curse on black people. Just some very racist white people who wanted to justify how blacks were being treated. So there is bound to be some hesitancy in singing “he knows the way” with an unquestioning countenance. There are certainly those who would question my decision to stay or somehow sustain a prophet despite my convictions, however, in living my life as a Latter-day Saint, in all my interactions and frustrations with members and policies, Mormonism has revealed itself to be a journey not a destination. For me, it is an unfinished house.

Stepping into the Church, I believed this journey would unfold in a straight line. However, it’s been anything but. How do I survive as a black woman in the LDS Church and a culture that is not mine? Around faces that do not look like mine. Even further, how do I thrive? As a black woman, I’ve never found comfort in a white Jesus and Heavenly Parents. Whiteness defined not only in skin color but in attitudes towards people of color. I’m somehow to believe God is a divine racist? In the years since I’ve joined, I’ve found that I cannot survive in believing that. I’ve found that I cannot grow.

My Mormonism is not as simple as just following the prophet because though I would hope they would be, prophets haven’t always been right. It is not as simple as finding out the answers later because my people suffer in the now. Though I continue to navigate between prophetic teachings and my own reality, I find balance in my identity and how in that, I relate to the Gospel itself. In how it gets me, even when people who proclaimed their words were from God did not.

My Mormonism is an unfinished house and I will continue to live and build within it.

Janan Graham-Russell is a writer based in Evanston, Illinois. In 2016, she graduated from the Howard University School of Divinity with a Master of Arts in Religious Studies. Her writing focuses on culture, history, religion and theology through Black feminist and womanist lenses. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic as well as Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings (2015) and A Book of Mormons (2015). When she's not writing or doing research, she enjoys dancing to Beyonce, watching films, and spending time with her husband and infant son.

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