February is #BlackHistoryMonth, and I’m excited to kick of the month with a race-barrier breaker! Joseph Freeman was the first black man ordained following the announcement of Pres Kimball’s June 1978 revelation lifting the ban on black members. We’ll learn more about Joseph’s conversion to the LDS Church, and find out that he was an ordained minister in his previous church!
GT: So, I’ve read your book, In the Lord’s Due Time. Let’s talk a little bit more about your growing up in North Carolina. So I understand that you grew up in the Holiness Church?
GT: Can you tell us a little bit more? I actually served my mission in South Carolina. So I’m a little bit familiar with it. But I think most people, especially in Utah, probably aren’t that familiar with the Holiness Church.
Joseph: That’s right. Holiness, is, I guess, a faith that some call themselves Pentecostal, and others would call themselves Holiness. They both are very similar. Then, you could stretch it a little bit more, and you could say, the Southern Baptists are very similar because these groups of people, they like to say, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” They pat their feet and clap their hands. When the minister begins to preach, he gets into it quite a bit. Everybody will be saying “Amen,” the whole time he’s talking. For Mormons, we would think that’s irreverent. But, it’s their way of worshipping and praising God.
GT: I know when I read your book, it said that in a lot of ways, it was similar to LDS in the fact that there was no alcohol.
GT: But, I think that the thing that surprised me most was the no dancing [policy].
Joseph: Oh, yes. That varies, depending on where you live. But, generally, the true Holiness, the women don’t like to wear lipstick. They don’t like short dresses, or anything revealing, and alot of the people prefer that you don’t dance. This is kind of hard for young people, because kids like to go dancing, and so forth. One of the things that happens is that–the Holiness Churches sometimes say, “Well, we don’t even like you to play sports very much.”
GT: That’s blasphemy, isn’t it?
Joseph: (Chuckling.) Well, I tell you, one of the reasons–there is no doctrine in it. Because, you can’t find anything about that in the Bible about dancing or playing sports. But the belief is this. I was told by a minister one time. He said, “Well, if you get into sports, what is your association with people? You end up going to–you become wealthy, number one, and then your lifestyle changes. Most sports people are not going to church, because they are associating with people that drink, smoke, and live all kinds of terrible lives. [They live] a terrible life, kind of chasing women, if you’re a man or the opposite if you’re a woman. So what does it do? It draws you away from church into the world.” So that is probably the biggest reason that Holiness are against dancing and socializing like that.
GT: So becoming a Mormon was liberal, then. Is that right?
Joseph: Well, a little bit. (Chuckling) I still have two left feet. My wife lets me know that all the time.
GT: So, I believe, I’m trying to remember. I read your book so long ago, but I tried to refresh my memory on a few things. So they have youth preachers, is that right?
GT: Did you do something like that?
Joseph: Yes. I say it like this. Number one, my grandfather was a Baptist minister. Then my mother was a minister in the Holiness Church all her life until she died. I became a minister when I was about 18 years old. All my life, since I can remember, three or four years old, I had the desire to be a minister, because just the style of worship. There’s something about preaching the gospel that’s wonderful, to touch the lives of people in a special way, and to feel the spirit of the Lord. There’s people that, I guess in our church, sometimes, a lot of them will shy away from giving talks, and they just feel like they don’t want to do it. But, for people like myself, there is something very special about preaching the gospel. It comes because you’ve got to prepare yourself, number one, spiritually, to be able to do it. Then, two, once you are prepared, and you’re in the process of doing it, you feel the spirit. There’s nothing better than to be able to feel the spirit of the Lord, when you are actually in the process of giving a talk. So, that that is just a wonderful thing.
GT: So, you probably knew your Bible really well.
Joseph: I love reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I don’t say that I know it really well. I think, since I lost my hair, I forget half the stuff. But, I love the gospel.
We’ll also talk about his enlistment in the U.S. Army, and him getting stationed in Hawaii! (I can think of a lot worse places to be stationed!) What are your experiences with the Holiness Church? Were you aware they were more strict than Mormons? Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our other conversations during #BlackHistoryMonth about Black Mormon history, from Elijah Abel to Jane Manning James to Ezra Taft Benson & MLK!