I recently completed reading Curtis J. Evans’s excellent new book, The Burden of Black Religion. In his book, Evans examines the various ways that African American religion and religiosity has been thought of and characterized from the early 19th century through the mid-20th century. Although “what it meant to be religious was often shaped by the politics of the interpreter and evolving debates about the value of a certain kind of religion,” Evans writes, blacks in America have consistently been characterized as “innately religious.” This innate religiosity “could mean ‘feeling’ or ’emotion’ that was said to be unique to blacks and a complement to the ‘rational’ faith of whites. . . . Or it could mean the ‘degraded’ practices of the native African that appeared to be what some called ‘religion.”
While reading, I wondered whether a similar dynamic exists within Mormonism regarding general attitudes towards “Lamanite” peoples. Upon my arrival in Arizona as a missionary, I was assigned to serve on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. One of the first points of instruction I received was to keep things simple and focus all of my teaching efforts on helping these “Lamanites” feel the spirit. They could learn about the gospel later, I was instructed. Videos and hymn singing worked well; lengthy reading assignments did not. I was also told that they would often experience spiritual manifestations in the form of dreams and/or visions. An old roommate who served in Tonga echoed my experience with his own recounting of similar advice from his American companions. The implication was that the “Lamanites” were somehow naturally more spiritual (meaning more prone to charismatic spiritual gifts) and less interested in intellectual pursuit of gospel study.
More recently, I came across an interesting booklet in the BYU library entitled The Gospel in Central America: A Phenomenon of Response and Frustration. Authored by F. Lamond Tullis in 1963, it was written in response to (then Assistant to the Twelve) Boyd K. Packer’s solicitation of Tullis’s “ideas concerning the Saints in Central America.” While much of the 44-page essay focuses on the need to assist in improving the socio-economic conditions of the people in Central America, one section of the first chapter addressed “The Indian and Christianity.”
As is the case with many primitive and semi-primitive peoples, the Indians of Central America are highly traditionalized, and their legends and traditions engage much of their life. …
As the missionaries approach the Indian with the gospel for the first time, they have a novel experience. Their attempts to indoctrinate and ‘prove’ the gospel is of little importance to him, for he has been rejecting this approach for four hundred and fifty years. The real common basis for preaching the gospel to him, and his understanding of it, is simply through the medium of spiritual experience. …
The Indians’ religion is not entirely Christian, nor is it entirely pagan. It is an admixture which retains an inherent concept of ‘spiritual meaning’ with it. This is one reason the Indian reponds so favorably when a Mormon Elder approaches him spiritually. It is the type of contact he seeks and desires. …
By establishing spiritual meaning with them as an integral part of the gospel, the objectionable parts of their religious traditions begin to fade away, for they now have an alternative, an acceptable alternative, a true alternative. This is one basic reason why, in spite of their traditions, they make excellent members of the church.
It is evident that even a limited gospel approach to these people can utilize to advantage the very intrinsic traits of their culture which have produced many objectionable traditions. It just happens to be that some of these traits facilitate the establishment of a true gospel contact with them, one based on spirituality. Thus, to manifestly attempt to change their culture is impractical and unwise; to use it is advantageous.
I am interested in everyone’s general reaction to Tullis’s characterization of Indian religion, and especially interested in any other LDS sources people may know of that address these issues (that is, linking one’s race with an inherent or natural religiosity). Are the anecdotal notes from my own experience and the view articulated by Tullis a commonly-held idea historically within Mormonism? What about in the contemporary church? Are particular and different expressions of religiosity tied closely with other races in Latter-day Saint thought?
 Curtin J. Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 4.
 F. Lamond Tullis, The Gospel in Central America: A Phenomenon of Response and Frustration (n.p., July 1963), iii.
 Tullis, The Gospel in Central America, 7-9. Underlining in original.