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Local Mormon Bishop Living King’s dream PDF Print E-mail
Written by LISA BOLIVAR   
Wednesday, 15 February 2012

adam_bradford_bishop_fred_bethel_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — Bishop Fred Bethel sees his congregation as an example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of brotherhood. Bethel, 40, of the Fort Lauderdale Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1100 S.W. 15th Ave., ministers to a diverse congregation that represents almost every face known to man.

“The greatest joy I have is that every Sunday when I look upon my congregation I have no idea what the predominant culture is; it’s such a mixture of cultures,” said Bethel, who grew up in Carol City. “And everyone who enters the building recognizes there is such love in the heart of the members beyond the outer appearance. You are my brother and my sister and I don’t care what your skin looks like.”

One reality outside the walls of his temple is that the race for the Republican presidential nomination begs the question: Would Dr. King vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — who shares Bethel’s faith — or shy away from voting for a Mormon?

Says Bethel: “If Dr. King was alive today, I believe he would make his decision based upon the content of (Romney’s) character and the policy which he was willing to deal with in the country. I believe if Dr. King supported the message that Mitt Romney was presenting, he would look past all the other traditional factors that many might have come into place, because that is who Dr. King was.”

The question of tolerance versus brotherhood is a prickly one for Bethel. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or LDS, is perceived as being unfriendly to people of color — a stereotype challenged by the fact that Bishop Bethel is an African American.

“I am a black man in the LDS church,” he said. “I’ve created quite a stir.”

Bethel was raised as a Baptist in a Miami-Dade city known for social problems and high crime. He attributes his success in life to his mother who reared him and his sister to value education above temptation.

Both Bethel children earned scholarships and were college educated. He attended historically black Jackson State University in Mississippi where he became a brother of Dr. King in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He applies King’s position on brotherhood to his everyday conduct, he said, adding that becoming a Mormon has had its challenges in applying that ideal.

“There is a lot of tradition in the church that doesn’t parallel with the teachings of the church” as far as tolerance goes, he said.

Bethel likes to refer to Dr. King’s 1963 Lincoln Memorial “I have a dream” speech, in which King said: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

We need to pay attention, Bethel said, “to what Dr. King was saying here and what his dream was, and continue to sit at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood, but I don’t think we are doing that. We are settling with sitting at the table of tolerance because in our hearts we have not achieved that state of loving one another as brothers and sisters.”

“We are tolerating you living in my neighborhood, and I will tolerate being on a bus with you but as far as my heart is concerned…I think we’ve gotten to a point where the people can appear to get along but if you put pressure in a situation then the essence of the heart begins to reveal itself.”

Bethel equates prejudice with layers of an onion. “You have the first layer when you say, ‘Well, I am not prejudiced.’ You are friends with your coworkers and are not calling them the N-word at work. But then you have to ask yourself would you feel comfortable with your child dating someone of another culture? If the answer is no, you haven’t reached the depth of getting to that brotherly love core.”

Seeing humanity as one and actually living the philosophy are different things, said Adam Bradford, 38, a member of the LDS church who, under Bethel, has learned to apply his faith to real-world scenarios. Bradford grew up in the LDS church in Utah and recently moved to South Florida from Iowa.

“To be honest, the demographic of those places is such that there really isn’t a large African-American population,” Bradford said. “So, coming to South Florida and encountering a new demographic with such a huge amount of diversity here compared to what I was used to, right off the bat certain issues that I never really had to confront except intellectually, surfaced.”

“With racism, it’s one thing to think about it when you are surrounded by people who look like you, and then another way to think about it when you walk into a community of people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds,” he said. “As I have worked with Mr. Bethel in the church here in South Florida, the thing that has been so remarkable to me that you get to that point that you recognize that people really are people and when you love them it really doesn’t make any difference. Mr. Bethel taught me that.”

As Bethel prepares to observe Dr. King’s birthday, he said the lessons of brotherhood are forefront through King’s teachings, which are firmly rooted in the words of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus makes the way very simple. It’s all a matter of choice. A person can acknowledge the fact that we are all children of God,” Bethel said, then asks: “Why can’t we stop focusing on how we’re different, and focus on how we are alike?”

**Pictured above Fred Bethel (right), a South Florida native raised in Miami-Dade County’s Carol City, is a Mormon bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Fort Lauderdale Ward, with Adam Bradford, (left).

Comments (26)Add Comment
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Mormons Don't Like Blacks, Hispanics,
written by Reverend, February 16, 2012
Mitt Romney is finished as a candidate. Blacks and Hispanics will not vote for him, and wonder how any person of color could tolerate and accept such beliefs? Romney has to explain if he agrees with these religious beliefs and if he think blacks and Hispanics are equal to whites.
...
written by Kay, February 15, 2012
I read the book, CAN MITT ROMNEY SERVE TWO MASTERS?, The Mormon Church Versus The Office of the Presidendy of the United States AND EVERYONE WHO READS THIS ARTICLE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. I took the liberty of copying just one experpt from the book, chapter 5, on the horrific racism in the Mormon Church. Their most "correct book" is the Book of Mormon. Any black man or woman should run far away from this racist church!

The Book of Mormon accuses God of cursing Africans and Native Americans in the following passages of 2nd Nephi Chapter 5:

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. 22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathesome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities. 23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done."
Couldn't Resist
written by Bishop Bethel, January 16, 2012
Ok I couldn’t resist this reply because I felt it could benefit many who read it, so forgive me for going back on my word in my last reply stating that it was my last reply.

@ criticalthinker…You should also be admired for your ability to forgive a racist country. This country has enslaved and shown injustice to people of color since its inception. When good people tried to show this country the error of their ways many of them were killed. You are a citizen of a country that now allow the benefits but what is to say that this country will not take your privileges away as they did people of color in the past? Do you actually think racism is out of the country with the leaders who were raised and bred with racist views? Good luck to you too!

Sorry for the satire but I wanted to provide you with a perspective so as to better help you understand why anybody knowing the past history would want to join the LDS church…especially a person of color. Just as this country should not be defined presently for the past actions of individuals, it is in my humble opinion that the LDS church should also not be defined by that standard. And just as we applaud this country for the efforts and progress it has made and continues to make in its efforts to improve race relations I believe the LDS church should be looked upon in the same light. With all the history and current imperfections this country has in dealing with race, it is still one of the best countries in the world. With all the history and current imperfections the LDS church has in dealing with race, it is still one of the best churches to be a part of in the world.

Matthew 6:14-15
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
smilies/smiley.gif
...
written by John Pack Lambert, January 15, 2012
The place where Bethel meets for Church on Sunday is NOT a temple, and definantly not "his temple". It is a Church building. Temples are special buildings of the Church where special ceremonies, such as marriages, are performed. They are not open on Sundays. Currently the only temple in Florida is just outside of Orlando but there is one in the process of being built near Fort Lauderdale.
...
written by Criticalthinker, January 14, 2012
You should be admired for your ability to forgive a racist organization. The church allowed blacks into the priesthood (Elijah Abel, William mccary, etc.). When they tried to adhere to the rules of the church in taking multiple wives, they were banished because they took multiple white wives. You are a member of the church now with all of the benefits but what is to say that they will not take your privilege away as they did to blacks in the past? Do you actually think racism is out of the church with the leaders who were raised and bred with racist views? Good luck!
...
written by Visitor, January 14, 2012
"Isn't it interesting that even after a competant and reasonable explanation of issues, that the same argument is brought up again and again by the intolerant bigots who want to put forth their spewings without regard to investigating even the possibilities of validity?"

Wow. "Intolerant," "bigots," "spewings."

It is revealing that the Mormon population seems to enjoy widespread exposure, yet when people ask fair questions, they are met with that.

Last and final reply
written by Bishop Bethel, January 13, 2012
My friend, thank you for your series of questions and concerns regarding the LDS religion. I'm sure your questions are had by many who will read this article and, thus, has provided me an opportunity to shed some light. Now this will be my last post because for the most part I think I've provided answers that should address some general questions for those who read this article. It is possible that you have a series of questions lined up and ready to go for me, however, I do not want to take away the sweet spirit of this article and turn it into a debate. I truly respect your position regarding my faith and I hope the information that I have provided you will give you some resolve. Nevertheless, this article is to honor Dr. King and not to determine the credibility of Joseph Smith or any other leaders of our church as prophets of God. I hope you can understand.

So, you've sited statements from previous leaders regarding various matters. Here's a thought, as a bishop I do my best to lead my congregation under the inspiration and revelation given to me by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I am an imperfect man. Thus, it needs to be understood that pure and complete knowledge can only come from God through the Holy Spirit. So when I deliver a message to my congregation I always, always encourage them to pray about what I have said in order to receive a perfect knowledge. Our leaders have said the same by way of the following:

By Elder Dallin H. Oaks. - LDS Apostle

"Some wonder how members of the Church accept a modern prophet's teachings to guide their personal lives, something that is unusual in most religious traditions. Our answer to the charge that Latter-day Saints follow their leaders out of "blind obedience" is this same personal revelation. We respect our leaders and presume inspiration in their leadership of the Church and in their teachings. But we are all privileged and encouraged to confirm their teachings by prayerfully seeking and receiving revelatory confirmation directly from God."

Now you have sited statements that prove that past prophets of our church were not perfect in some of their claims. Have we not read our scriptures in uncovering that Moses too was not perfect as a prophet in all that he did, nor was Joshua, nor Joel, nor Jeremiah, nor Peter nor any prophet that has ever walked the earth. Why, because they were all imperfect men, just as you are, just as I am and just as every individual that reads this article. They have all to some capacity fallen short and not one of them have been perfect in their calling as prophet...just as we have all fallen short in our callings as parents, brothers, sisters, leaders and so forth. But we do our best. Remember, the calling does not automatically make a man perfect...the calling allows a man the opportunity to become perfect. Our perfect knowledge of things comes only through the Holy Spirit. If we could rely on the prophets for a perfect knowledge we wouldn't need the Holy Spirit.

So yes, I'm sure you can gather an entire library of shortcomings of our past leaders. However, this much I am sure of, for every shortcoming that you find there are a dozen things that they did get right...just as the prophets of old.

Take care my friend and continue to have the great spirit that you do. God bless. smilies/smiley.gif
...
written by Zobewan, January 13, 2012
Bishop Bethel,
Commendations on your insights and your connecting to the dream of Rev MLK. We have not progressed very far in realising Rev King's dream. Isn't it interesting that even after a competant and reasonable explanation of issues, that the same argument is brought up again and again by the intolerant bigots who want to put forth their spewings without regard to investigating even the possibilities of validity?
...
written by Visitor, January 13, 2012
My Friend the Bishop,

So what you are saying is that any previous prophecy can be jettisoned if it is not borne out. Some of Joseph Smith's that come to mind are these:

- Jesus will return by 1891 ((History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 189)

- A temple would be built in western Missouri during the lifetime of the saints living when D&C 84 was given (Doctrine and Covenants 84:2-5,31)

- The Civil War would spread to all nations (Doctrine and Covenants 87:1-3)

And this doesn't touch on other prophecies, including that six-feet tall people dressed like Quakers live on the Moon (The Young Woman's Journal, published by the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Associations of Zion, 1892, vol. 3, pp. 263-64).

Please forgive us if we sound probing, but claims of prophecy should be tested, and these clearly were failures. And when you say (essentially) "That was then, but new prophecies preempt the old ones," that's surely your right. But when some of the prophecies were so far off the mark (and gave time-lines), how can that work? Was Joseph Smith a prophet? If so, why did he miss the mark?

And this doesn't even touch on Brigham Young saying things like black people will NEVER receive the priesthood: "Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abels children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the preisthood, until the redemtion of the earth." Was he just wrong? Was he not a prophet?
Reply 3 (and after this I have to go eat dinner, lol)
written by Bishop Bethel, January 13, 2012
My friend, I have spent a number of years helping members and those not of our faith better understand our doctrine. I have come to an understanding that not everyone will get it...and I'm ok with that. Some people have gathered so many facts over the years that they've failed to do one simple thing...and that is pray to God for clarity. Now what I will do here is provide you with some Bible versus that use similar Hebrew idioms and maybe you can see the parallel:

Job 30:30
"My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat"
(was this a literal or figurative staement by Job)

Jeremiah 8:21
"For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me"
(literal or figurative meaning)

Jeremiah 14:2
"Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up."
(literal or figurative meaning)

Lamentations 4:7
"Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk,they were more ruddy in body than rubies..."
(literal or figurative meaning)

Lamentations 4:8
"Their visage is blacker than a coal..."
(literal or figurative meaning)

Lamentations 5:10
"Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine."
(literal or figurative meaning)

Joel 2:6
"Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness"
(literal or figurative meaning)

Could any of the previous scriptures be relating "black" to "gloomy", "dejected", "dark spirit" and white to "pure", "righteousness". Something to pray about.

Again, the only purpose I had in replying to any of the posts is to at least provide some proper light and a better perspective in understanding our doctrince. I know that there are those who have their solid opinion regarding the LDS religion and that's fine. That being the case, let's agree to disagree and focus on how we are alike...and how we can honor Bro. King in working our way to the table of brotherhood.

Take care. smilies/smiley.gif
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