Lead Out in Abandoning Prejudice

Several talks in the recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints included statements of anti-racism. Because this has been a major subject of my studying, pondering, and writing this year, these statements really caught my attention. I was particularly impressed by the number and variety of these quotes, so I decided to compile all of them in one place. Together they make a forceful sermon on the subject.

Elder Quentin L. Cook

Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave an address entitled “Hearts Knit Together in Righteousness and Unity.” He began by telling the story of a pioneer woman in the Utah territory who happily served the local Native Americans at her kitchen table and even learned their language. Then he summarized the lesson of the story:

“Unity is enhanced when people are treated with dignity and respect, even though they are different in outward characteristics.

“As leaders, we are not under the illusion that in the past all relationships were perfect, all conduct was Christlike, or all decisions were just. However, our faith teaches that we are all children of our Father in Heaven, and we worship Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Savior. Our desire is that our hearts and minds will be knit in righteousness and unity and that we will be one with Them.

He then teaches from the scriptures about the societies that successfully unified themselves in righteousness. This history provides us with a guide as we attempt to do the same thing in our day.

“At this 200-year hinge point in our Church history, let us commit ourselves as members of the Lord’s Church to live righteously and be united as never before. President Russell M. Nelson has asked us ‘to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect.’ This means loving each other and God and accepting everyone as brothers and sisters and truly being a Zion people.

“With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity. During the period I served in the San Francisco California Stake presidency, we had Spanish-, Tongan-, Samoan-, Tagalog-, and Mandarin-language-speaking congregations. Our English-speaking wards were composed of people from many racial and cultural backgrounds. There was love, righteousness, and unity.

“Wards and branches in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are determined by geography or language, not by race or culture. Race is not identified on membership records.

“Early in the Book of Mormon, approximately 550 years before the birth of Christ, we are taught the fundamental commandment regarding the relationship between Father in Heaven’s children. All are to keep the Lord’s commandments, and all are invited to partake of the Lord’s goodness; ‘and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile’ (2 Nephi 26:33).

“The Savior’s ministry and message have consistently declared all races and colors are children of God. We are all brothers and sisters. In our doctrine we believe that in the host country for the Restoration, the United States, the U.S. Constitution and related documents, written by imperfect men, were inspired by God to bless all people. As we read in the Doctrine and Covenants, these documents were ‘established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles’ (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77). Two of these principles were agency and accountability for one’s own sins. The Lord declared:

“’Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

“’And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood’ (Doctrine and Covenants 101:79–80).

“This revelation was received in 1833 when the Saints in Missouri were suffering great persecution. The heading to Doctrine and Covenants section 101 reads in part: ‘Mobs had driven them from their homes in Jackson County. … Threats of death against [members] of the Church were many.’

“This was a time of tension on several fronts. Many Missourians considered Native Americans a relentless enemy and wanted them removed from the land. In addition, many of the Missouri settlers were slave owners and felt threatened by those who were opposed to slavery.

“In contrast, our doctrine respected the Native Americans, and our desire was to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. With respect to slavery, our scriptures had made it clear that no man should be in bondage to another.

Elder Cook then describes the ethnic tensions between Jews and Gentiles within the early Christian church. We face a similar challenge in the church today.

“The culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Gentile culture or a Judaic culture. It is not determined by the color of one’s skin or where one lives. While we rejoice in distinctive cultures, we should leave behind aspects of those cultures that conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our members and new converts often come from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. If we are to follow President Nelson’s admonition to gather scattered Israel, we will find we are as different as the Jews and Gentiles were in Paul’s time. Yet we can be united in our love of and faith in Jesus Christ.”

President Dallin H. Oaks

In his address, entitled “Love Your Enemies,” President Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, addressed the need for civility and law abidance in public discourse. He first approached the topic of race by quoting two presidents of the Church.

President Howard W. Hunter taught: ‘The world in which we live would benefit greatly if men and women everywhere would exercise the pure love of Christ, which is kind, meek, and lowly. It is without envy or pride. … It seeks nothing in return. … It has no place for bigotry, hatred, or violence. … It encourages diverse people to live together in Christian love regardless of religious belief, race, nationality, financial standing, education, or culture.’

“And President Russell M. Nelson has urged us to ‘expand our circle of love to embrace the whole human family.’

Later he referred to the Black Lives Matter protests of this year, some of which have descended into riots.

“The Savior’s teaching to love our enemies is based on the reality that all mortals are beloved children of God. That eternal principle and some basic principles of law were tested in the recent protests in many American cities.

“At one extreme, some seem to have forgotten that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the ‘right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ That is the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices in the content or administration of the laws. And there have been injustices. In public actions and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances. In a persuasive personal essay, the Reverend Theresa A. Dear of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reminded us that ‘racism thrives on hatred, oppression, collusion, passivity, indifference and silence.’ As citizens and as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism.

“At the other extreme, a minority of participants and supporters of these protests and the illegal acts that followed them seem to have forgotten that the protests protected by the Constitution are peaceful protests. Protesters have no right to destroy, deface, or steal property or to undermine the government’s legitimate police powers. The Constitution and laws contain no invitation to revolution or anarchy. All of us—police, protesters, supporters, and spectators—should understand the limits of our rights and the importance of our duties to stay within the boundaries of existing law. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, ‘There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.’ Redress of grievances by mobs is redress by illegal means. That is anarchy, a condition that has no effective governance and no formal police, which undermines rather than protects individual rights.

“One reason the recent protests in the United States were shocking to so many was that the hostilities and illegalities felt among different ethnicities in other nations should not be felt in the United States. This country should be better in eliminating racism not only against Black Americans, who were most visible in the recent protests, but also against Latinos, Asians, and other groups. This nation’s history of racism is not a happy one, and we must do better.

“The United States was founded by immigrants of different nationalities and different ethnicities. Its unifying purpose was not to establish a particular religion or to perpetuate any of the diverse cultures or tribal loyalties of the old countries. Our founding generation sought to be unified by a new constitution and laws. That is not to say that our unifying documents or the then-current understanding of their meanings were perfect. The history of the first two centuries of the United States showed the need for many refinements, such as voting rights for women and, particularly, the abolition of slavery, including laws to ensure that those who had been enslaved would have all the conditions of freedom.

“Knowing that we are all children of God gives us a divine vision of the worth of all others and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism.”

Later, in the Women’s Session, he briefly revisited the topic of racism within a more general discussion of overcoming tribulations. His talk was entitled “Be of Good Cheer,” which is the Lord’s consistent advice in such times.

“On a personal basis, each of us struggles individually with some of the many adversities of mortality, such as poverty, racism, ill health, job losses or disappointments, wayward children, bad marriages or no marriages, and the effects of sin—our own or others’.

“Yet, in the midst of all of this, we have that heavenly counsel to be of good cheer and to find joy in the principles and promises of the gospel and the fruits of our labors.”

Elder Dale G. Renlund

Elder Renlund, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, based his talk on Micah 6:8, “Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God.”

“To be Christlike, a person loves mercy. People who love mercy are not judgmental; they manifest compassion for others, especially for those who are less fortunate; they are gracious, kind, and honorable. These individuals treat everyone with love and understanding, regardless of characteristics such as race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and tribal, clan, or national differences. These are superseded by Christlike love.”

Sharon Eubank

Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, spoke generally about the task of building unity in her talk, entitled “By Union of Feeling We Obtain Power with God.” Although she did not specifically mention racism, she did address the challenge of overcoming prejudice, and I think her comments add a unique insight to the subject.

“I believe the change we seek in ourselves and in the groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another. Why? Because we are building Zion—a people ‘of one heart and one mind’ (Moses 7:18).”

Elder William K. Jackson

Elder Jackson, of the Seventy, gave an address entitled “The Culture of Christ.” Again without mentioning racism specifically, his comments about prejudice in general are easily applicable.

“This culture is grounded in the testimony that our Heavenly Father exists, that He is real and loves each one of us individually. We are His ‘work and [His] glory.’ This culture espouses the concept of equal worth. There is no recognition of caste or class. We are, after all, brothers and sisters, spirit children of our heavenly parents—literally. There is no prejudice or ‘us versus them’ mentality in the greatest of all cultures. We are all ‘us.’ We are all ‘them.’ We believe that we are responsible and accountable for ourselves, one another, the Church, and our world. Responsibility and accountability are important factors in our growth.

“Charity, true Christlike caring, is the bedrock of this culture. We feel real concern for the needs of our fellowman, temporal and spiritual, and act on those feelings. This dispels prejudice and hatred.”

President Russell M. Nelson

I quoted President Nelson’s comments in my previous post, but will repeat them here with more context. This was from his Sunday Morning address, on the subject of gathering Israel. One of the Hebrew meanings of the name Israel is “Let God Prevail,” and President Nelson took this phrase as the text and title of his sermon.

“With the Hebraic definition of Israel in mind, we find that the gathering of Israel takes on added meaning. The Lord is gathering those who are willing to let God prevail in their lives. The Lord is gathering those who will choose to let God be the most important influence in their lives.”

Being a descendant of Israel, or of any other faithful person, will not be of much help to us in the day of judgement if we have not individually accepted Christ as our Savior and leaned upon his grace. As John the baptist said, “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).

God wants to make covenants with us, as he did with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those who are willing to covenant with God are his covenant people — modern day Israel — whether or not they literally descend from the Old Testament patriarchs. These covenants include the obligation to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and […] to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). Those who make this covenant at the time of their baptism are counted among the Lord’s people. President Nelson continues:

“The gospel net to gather scattered Israel is expansive. There is room for each person who will fully embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each convert becomes one of God’s covenant children, whether by birth or by adoption. Each becomes a full heir to all that God has promised the faithful children of Israel!

“Each of us has a divine potential because each is a child of God. Each is equal in His eyes. The implications of this truth are profound. Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say. God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto Him, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33).

“I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin.

“I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.

“The question for each of us, regardless of race, is the same. Are you willing to let God prevail in your life?”

A Few Thoughts

Race relations are placed in three different contexts in these statements:

First, the equality of all human beings follows naturally from the doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God. Because we are all brothers and sisters across the globe — all children of God with equal access to his grace — then racial differences are ultimately of little importance.

Second, the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to prepare the world for the second coming of the Lord. That preparation involves gathering together a unified society of those who will accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. This necessarily requires us to jettison those false beliefs and actions which prevent unity, including racism. There is a sense of urgency in these statements, that building righteous unity is not something that will happen in some future prophesied day, but that it will happen NOW.

Third, racial prejudice is a significant source of tribulation in modern life. Those who are suffering from race-based discrimination can call upon God for his grace to help, and those who reach out in love to help these individuals are doing God’s work.

Having two members of the First Presidency and two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak out against racism in the same conference is rather stunning. The unity of their voice on this subject leaves us with little doubt of its importance, or of the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These leaders didn’t just condemn racism; they enlisted the help of all Church members to eliminate it from our society. And the most imperative statement came from the President of the Church, the very Prophet of God.

For all of this year I have been studying and writing about this subject, wondering why I felt so drawn to it, and whether I should keep focusing my efforts here. After this Conference I feel ready to “lead out” with the small influence that I have. At the very least, I am glad to add my voice to those who are calling for understanding, respect, Christian love, and unity in diversity.

It is time to heal the wounds in our society. With God’s help we will finally do it.

Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.

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