All Are Alike Unto God

I’ve been thinking about the issue of race in the Church (and the history of the temple and priesthood ban in particular) a lot lately.  As part of that thinking, I am working on a series of posts wrestling with the oft-proposed idea of an apology for the ban, but I did have something I wanted to share as a middle of the road approach before I get into the more in-depth discussions.

One thing that could be done to help address the issue of both historical and ongoing racism within the Church would be to publicize a brief document treated with similar weight and importance as “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” or “The Living Christ: The Testimony of The Apostles” during general conference.  The positive aspects of this approach are that: a) It doesn’t require Church leaders to say anything they haven’t already said, b) It makes it clear that they what has been said before is authoritative rather than a series of PR stunts, c) It gives members a concise resource to draw upon in understanding and representing the Church’s stance on issues of racism, and d) It sidesteps the thorny issues surrounding the idea of releasing an apology for the ban.  As an exercise in curiosity, I tried to compile many of the most important statements of Church leaders and official statements of the Church on the subject into a document with a similar word count to “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (with some adaptation for inclusiveness and flow).  I’ll share it below.  Let me know what you think (both about the idea and the compilation).

 

“All Are Alike Unto God”

A Compilation of Statements by Leaders of

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In theology and practice, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the universal human family.  Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all.[1]

We are brothers and sisters, each of us the child of a loving Father in Heaven.  His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, invites all to come unto Him.[2]  The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed.  It affirms that God is “no respecter of persons” and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him.[3]  As the Book of Mormon teaches, “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).[4]

The Creator of us all calls on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children.  Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent![5]  No man or woman who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself or herself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he or she consider him or herself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.[6]  White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a “white culture” or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.[7]  We should hasten to prepare our attitudes and our actions—institutionally and personally—to abandon all personal prejudices.[8]

Admittedly, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have made mistakes.  There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.[9]  For example, in the past, many Saints wrongly viewed black people as inferior, believing that black skin was the result of God’s curse on the biblical figures Cain and Ham.[10]  Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[11]

We invite all people, organizations, and governmental units to work with greater civility, eliminating prejudice of all kinds.[12] It behooves each of us to do whatever we can in our spheres of influence to preserve the dignity and respect every son and daughter of God deserves.[13] We believe that it is a moral evil for any person or group of persons to deny any human being the right to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship, just as it is a moral evil to deny him the right to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience.[14]  We call upon all men and women, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the family of humankind.[15]

 

(Edited 8 July 2020 and 10 July to remove phrases that, after discussing them, seemed in appropriate to include.)

 

Sources:

[1] “Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics Essays, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

[2] Russell M. Nelson, “President Nelson Shares Social Post about Racism and Calls for Respect for Human Dignity,” Church Newsroom, 1 June 2020, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-nelson-shares-social-post-encouraging-understanding-and-civility.

[3] “Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics Essays, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

[4] “Church Issues Statement on Situation in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Church Newsroom, 13 August 2017, updated 15 August 2017, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/church-statement-charlottesville-virginia?__prclt=tNTTIVsb

[5] Russell M. Nelson, “President Nelson Shares Social Post about Racism and Calls for Respect for Human Dignity,” Church Newsroom, 1 June 2020, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-nelson-shares-social-post-encouraging-understanding-and-civility.

[6] Based on Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness,” Conference Report, April 2006, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2006/04/the-need-for-greater-kindness?lang=eng.

[7] “Church Issues Statement on Situation in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Church Newsroom, 13 August 2017, updated 15 August 2017, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/church-statement-charlottesville-virginia?__prclt=tNTTIVsb

[8] Dallin H. Oaks, “President Oaks Remarks at Worldwide Priesthood Celebration,” Church Newsroom, 1 June 2018, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-oaks-remarks-worldwide-priesthood-celebration.

[9] Based on Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join With Us,” Conference Report, October 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng.

[10] Based on Saints, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 71, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2019/12/05-bowed-down-to-the-grave?lang=eng.

[11] “Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics Essays, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

[12] Russell M. Nelson, cited in “First Presidency, NAACP National Leaders Call for Civility, Talk Possible Future Efforts Together,” Church News, 17 May 2018, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/first-presidency-naacp-national-leaders-call-for-civility-talk-possible-future-efforts-together?lang=eng.

[13] Russell M. Nelson, “President Nelson Shares Social Post about Racism and Calls for Respect for Human Dignity,” Church Newsroom, 1 June 2020, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-nelson-shares-social-post-encouraging-understanding-and-civility.

[14] Church statement read by Hugh B. Brown, in Conference Report, October 1963, p. 91.

[15] Based on Brown, in Conference Report, October 1963, p.91 – p.92

22 comments for “All Are Alike Unto God

  1. E
    July 1, 2020 at 7:34 am

    It’s a nice summary. I think it would get the same amount of attention that “The Living Christ” gets (almost none), rather than the amount of attention the “Proclamation on the Family” gets (lots, but mostly in service to the political war the Church is fighting re LGBTQ rights).

  2. Chad Nielsen
    July 1, 2020 at 7:57 am

    There’s a fair point to that E.
    I will say that with “The Living Christ,” though, I have seen some attention given to it in my area, even if it isn’t cited regularly by Church leaders. Growing up, I seem to remember Church pamphlets like “For the Strength of Youth” or books to take notes during seminary having both documents printed in them together. I also had a stake presidency at one point challenge everyone in the stake to memorize “The Living Christ,” with one of the members of the stake presidency reciting the document from memory to demonstrate his commitment to the idea during the next stake conference. I also had Sunday School teachers discuss it in classes when I was a teenager. Admittedly, I was a teenager in the years immediately following its release, so that may be part of what I’m seeing in my memories compared to how much you hear about it today.
    My thought is, however, that document like this, read aloud in general conference as authoritative, would draw attention. As you say, The Family gets attention because it addresses the cultural wars that the Church is engaged in. Systemic racism is something that is another major topic these days in society, so I don’t think a statement of the sort would be quickly forgotten.

  3. E
    July 1, 2020 at 8:05 am

    Chad I’d be happy to frame it and put it on my wall. :)

  4. SDS
    July 1, 2020 at 8:27 am

    It’s a very nice statement, Chad, and I think that if issued by the Church today such a proclamation would get some attention. I think a proclamation of this kind might even be helpful with respect to some discussions that members of my own ward are having these days (through social media).

    Maybe it’s the quibbler in me, but one of the statements did give me pause. “God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally.” It’s surely true, I think, that God created the people of all races and esteems them equally. But did God create the races themselves (and the ethnicities)? Or did these come about through contingent historical and maybe evolutionary causes? I’m really not sure about any of this. But I wonder whether this statement is well-grounded in scripture or in our theology. And I also wonder whether it might entail some sort of principle of racial purity– one that might even be used to oppose, say, racial intermarriage. If God wanted there to be distinct races, after all, then who are you and I to frustrate that part of God’s design? I doubt that this is what you intended by the statement, but as part of an official proclamation, might that statement be just a bit problematic?

  5. Chad Nielsen
    July 1, 2020 at 9:29 am

    I can see where that would be problematic, SDS. From the perspective of someone whose professional training focused on molecular biology, the concept of races is a bit problematic to begin with, since there is greater genetic diversity within each racial group than the amount of differences between races (in other words, it seems that we assign more differences to race in society than actually exist on a biological level). I personally don’t know whether or not we can really say that race was something God created or something we mapped onto ethnicity and tied to the evolutionary adaptation of skin colors. It’s definitely something to be careful with and probably would be best to leave out or change the wording of in an actual proclamation by the Church.

    In this case, the statement is part of an official Church document already (direct quote from the “Race and Priesthood” Gospel Topics essay) and should be taken together with the section about how “the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that … mixed-race marriages are a sin.” It’s definitely a good point you bring up, though.

  6. ji
    July 1, 2020 at 11:28 am

    If there were to be a statement, I think it should be new rather than listing earlier statements — after all, picking earlier statements that fit today could be seen as cherry picking, as we pick some earlier statements and ignore others.

    I feel apologies are best done privately, and meaningfully. It seems that almost all of the clamor for an apology for history comes from white people, whether friend or enemy, and that essentially none of it comes from faithful Saints of color. And if a faithful Saint of color is troubled and shares his or her feelings with a stake president or visiting general authority, I have great confidence that their private interaction can be very meaningful for both parties.

    I don’t expect any church officer to apologize for the alleged sins or misdeeds of his or her predecessor. A new ward Relief Society president need not apologize for actions of her predecessor — same for a stake president and same for the president of the church. Whether dead or still alive, those predecessors have been released from their callings.
    If I ever have an office worth mentioning, I hope I will be sustained for myself and appreciated for myself and, where appropriate, judged for myself — and I hope I will apologize for any missteps that I might make.

    I hope we can continue on our path of increasing charity and building Zion; indeed, I am confident that we can and that we are.

  7. Chad Nielsen
    July 1, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Ji, I would agree that an actual statement from the Church would be newly written, though it would build on what’s been said before. Like I said, this was an exercise in curiosity about what a statement might look like based on what’s been said.

    There is some truth to your statement that a lot of the clamoring for an apology we see comes from Saints that are white folks, but I’m not sure whether that’s because we mostly hear white voices speaking or whether that’s actually representative of how faithful members of the Church that are people of color feel about the issue. I have seen and heard some pretty strong statements by faithful black Saints asking for an apology too.

    Your point about individual apologies (and previous ones about Church leaders apologizing for mistakes of their predecessors as well) are well taken. With the series I’m planning, that will come into the discussion about two posts down the road. Just so you know going in.

  8. Owen Witesman
    July 1, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    Ji, I disagree with your contention that church officers don’t need to apologize for the actions of their predecessors. Officers of the church at whatever level represent the church and take action on behalf of the church, whether it be on behalf of the whole church, a ward, a quorum, etc. The wrongs they do are wrongs done by the institution not simply by them as individuals. Apologizing to someone for how they were mistreated at church or by the church is not only appropriate but an essential step for reconciliation. I’ve worked with several people over the years who felt wronged by the church, and something as simple as a heartfelt apology and expression of sincere regret is often all that is needed to mend fences. At the very least, it softens hearts and allows the process to begin. I cannot for the life of me understand why any follower of Christ would be stingy with apologies.

  9. ji
    July 1, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    Owen, please don’t question my bona fides as a follower of Christ. I believe that everyone should apologize for his or her wrongs to others. One really cannot apologize for wrongs committed by third parties, but can feel sincere regret or sorrow for the pains another person feels.

    I most sincerely regret the pain that faithful saints of color felt before 1978, and am sorry they had to bear those burdens. I am much grateful and rejoice that they remained faithful and that our God heard their prayers, and that those days are behind us. I was not a member in those days, but I have heard and read about those days. I am also sorry to hear accounts of saints still feeling occasional racism in church settings, and hope those occurrences will diminish. I believe my sentiments are shared by others.

    I can and do express my own regret or sorrow — but I cannot meaningfully apologize for someone else’s actions — and the dead are dead, and cannot apologize. I choose not to blame Brigham Young or anyone else. They served faithfully, and have been honorably released from their callings. For any wrongs they may have done to me, I want to forgive them. I hope others will forgive them, too, for any wrongs they did to them. I do not want to hold current church officers at any level as blameworthy or culpable for the actions of their predecessors — you may want to, but I don’t.

  10. Taiwan Missionary
    July 2, 2020 at 12:21 am

    Chad: it is a beautifully written statement. I would love to see something like it published. Unfortunately, I fear that the paragraph that begins with “Admittedly,”
    is skirting too close to an apology, to gain approval from Church leaders in our current environment. Dallin Oaks has made it clear that The Church of Jesus Christ neither seeks for nor offers apologies—and, I would add, anything that might smell like them.

    To me, the question that needs addressing is, why are we as a Church so dead set against apologies. In my uninspired speculations, I think that Church leaders are fearful of apologies because they feel under siege from many quarters, and are afraid that apologies will open the floodgates of anger against the Church, that these floodgates of anger will cause people to lose faith in the Church, and might open the Church to significant threats of liability.

    Christ-like and essential as they are to draw us close to God, apologies seem to threaten our very core of existence: how many Chinese feel the need to apologize to Tibetans and Uighurs for their cultural genocide of these peoples? Rather, there is widespread anger that these enslaved people are not grateful for Chinese “benevolence.” How many Turks even acknowledge 100 years later, the Armenian genocide? How unpopular in Japan are the aperiodic, fitful, feeble attempts by Japan’s leaders to express regret for Japanese atrocities in WWII. Why do Holocaust deniers thrive, sometimes with governmental blessing?

    Pope John Paul II was a rare individual, who apologized for Catholic acquiescence in the Holocaust. He was driven by a spirit of Christian reconciliation. It would nice to have people like him in the Church.

    It took 100 years for someone to write the truth about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and Delbert Stapley and LeGrand Richards tried, but failed to get Juanita Brooks excommunicated for writing her book. Brooks was an outcast among her Mormon community for years. Her version of the Massacre eventually prevailed, but she paid a heavy price:

  11. sute
    July 2, 2020 at 2:16 am

    What I find interesting about the way people acted or viewed the world in the past, is that if you could bring one of them forward to the present and show them around, they’d change their thinking.

    And I think that every single one of you — every single one — would be a racist or sexist or homophobic son of a gun (by today’s standards) if you lived in the past. And I’m not saying that as an insult — it’s just the likely reality. None of us would have been Abe Lincolns who freed the slaves, and still had negative thoughts about the African race — he was extraordinary and he was also a man in his time.

    You’re certainly no better. And on the merits of individuals like BY, Lincoln, even LeGrand Richards (didn’t know he was the next moving target for progmos), etc. you’re demonstrably performing worse. La bave du crapaud n’atteint pas la blanche colombe.

    That being said, I think you could run this statement by Brigham Young and he’d be fine with it. But I tend to have a more charitable opinion of people.

  12. GEOFF -AUS
    July 2, 2020 at 5:07 am

    Sute, Peoples attitude to racism changed at least 20 years before the church changed. There were many who opposed slavery at that time, now there are many who support gay marriage, and equality for women, and the church will eventually.

    The are always progressive people, and conservative. So all the conservatives – every single one, but no not everyone, not progressives.

    I think the leadership think like ji above. I agree with Owen, we do not understand whether your view is driven by your politics or religion, and which drives which?

    Ji, in Australia we recently had a royal commision into child sexual abuse by instituions mostly religious. The individuals who did the abuse have gone, but their instituions have apologised, and are just now paying reparation.
    Luckily our church was not caught up in the enquiry. JW were and have not apologised or agreed to pay reparation yet. Consequences have not been announced yet.

    I would love to see the church make a statement as suggested, but I can’t see it happening.

    I use the same scripture to explain my attitude to gay marriage, and the priesthood for women. It does list groups with priveledge, juxtaposed with those discriminated against; black and white, bond and free, male and female, and if written now, gay and straight.

    So this scripture opposes discrimination, and we insist on discriminationg now, as we did in the past

  13. Smith Phillip C.
    July 2, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    I know that Church leaders discussed this issue in the 1990s. If they feel the need to do more I presume they will. I learned a long time ago that I do not run this Church, the Lord does, and if it is seen as needed he will certainly inspire his leaders to do so. I have made suggestions as well but it is out of my hands. I am not the one authorized to represent the Lord to His Church.

  14. Jon
    July 2, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    Geoff Aus
    You keep pushing the gay marriage narrative.
    And you don’t see that gay marriage and the gospel are not compatible?

    Opinion only
    it’s my belief that church members who support gay marriage are risking their own exaltation.

  15. Owen Witesman
    July 2, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Ji, you chose to apply my final sentence to yourself, not I.

  16. ji
    July 2, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    Owen, you addressed your comment to me. Even so, I apologize for thinking it was addressed to me. Best wishes…

  17. GEOFF -AUS
    July 3, 2020 at 1:34 am

    Jon, we are discussing “all are alike unto God”, where do you get except gays?

  18. jks
    July 8, 2020 at 12:14 am

    1. When talking about race, specifically in the time after George Floyd, with the history of the USA enslaving people for generations, it is TONE DEAF to refer to everyone being alike and listing black and white AND THEN slaves and nonslaves. So tone deaf. The people in America aren’t supposed to be slaves. They never should have been slaves. Why on earth would anyone quote that scripture as applicable in this point in time is so insensitive. Black Americans don’t want to hear that God loves them just as much as white people, whether or not they are slaves. Is that really supposed to make someone feel better in this point in time in our country?
    2. God created the race and the ethnicities? For those of us whose ancestors are all sorts of ethnicities, it sounds a little strange. We are all human. We don’t come in little tidy boxes of being all one ethnicity or all one race. There are so many children growing up with trying to deal with a biracial identity and it can be a struggle to not seem to fit in to one ethnicity or race or the other. Try telling them that God made these categories when it is so obvious this is simply earthly categories. I am all sorts of things. I’m half Argentine, half Scottish and British, half Irish,Italian,Norwegian,German and African. That is not too many halves, because my Argentine half came from somewhere else first. I am either 100% hispanic because I was born in South America, or half hispanic because my parent was. I am 100% American and have been from birth. I love math so I can enjoy my DNA test and figuring which of my ancestors had African heritage and how much, but they were all people and my very white looking appearance is just human and my percentage of African ancestry should not feel any different than my Irish. At my children’s diverse high school, 14% of students consider themselves multiracial.
    This is just ridiculous. I can’t get past your sentence 3 and 5. Back to the drawing board please!

  19. Chad Nielsen
    July 8, 2020 at 10:12 am

    jks, those are fair criticisms and ones I wasn’t thinking about when I included the relevant statements from the “Race and the Priesthood” Gospel Topics essay and President Nelson’s Facebook post/the Book of Mormon. Rather than completely going back to the drawboard, I updated the post, removing the offending phrases.

    Taiwan missionary, to your point about the “admittedly” paragraph skirting too close to an apology, I would point out that it is all things that the Church has admitted or said through official channels.

  20. Taiwan Missionary
    July 8, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    Chad Nielsen: you are absolutely right. But, wishing that I were wrong, I still think our current leadership would be very reluctant to issue such a statement. Let us hope that I am proven wrong in the near future.

  21. Arnold
    July 9, 2020 at 10:32 am

    Two comments:

    1. One issue with the Church condemning racism is that the definition of “racism” has changed over time, and the word means different things to different people (particularly if you travel outside of the US). For example, currently in the US racism is widely defined to suggest that only whites can be “racist” or exhibit “racism”. While this is an old leftist definition that has been around for decades (it was taught to me in high school in the early 90s), it has only recently gained widespread acceptance in the media and awareness among the public. That said, many in the US still don’t understand and/or accept this revision to the definition of racism (which traditionally allowed for any race to racist). Not to mention, this redefinition would likely be unheard of in other countries. So to get the result and meaning I think you want, you’d have to clearly redefine “racism” to the entire worldwide Church population to mean that only whites can be racist (good luck with that, particularly in outside of the US where there is plenty of racial conflicts between non-whites). Frankly, to many Saints this type of redefinition will appear to blatantly contradicts the Church’s teaching that all are alike unto God.

    2. The statement only apologizes for racism exhibited by whites within the Church. For example, it states “…in the past, many white Saints wrongly viewed black people as inferior…” However, many non-white Saints also held this same view (Latinos, Asians, Polynesians, etc). Why only condemn racism from whites? Are you saying it was ok for non-white Saints to view blacks as inferior? Or do you simply lack the courage to call out racism from non-whites? Or maybe you think non-whites can’t handle the criticism? Whatever the case, once you get outside of the white liberal paradigm, the world is not as black-and-white as you think.

  22. Chad Nielsen
    July 10, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    Arnold, those are relatively fair criticisms and are partly the result of my own blind spots. I appreciate the feedback. I will say that the exact definition of racism is one issue with past Church statements about rejecting racism in general that should probably be examined in greater detail.

    My main responses to the second point are that the example document displayed in the post is based on Church statements that already exist and the phrase “many white Saints wrongly viewed” is a direct quote from Saints, volume 2. That was addressing a different context, though, so I have dropped the word “white” in the text above, since you are correct in your assessment that more people than just whites believe(d) in the idea and this is addressing a different context than the history book is. It was not due to feeling that it’s okay for people of color to be racist or fear of calling them out–just an artifact from the source of the phrase in question. Likewise, the specific callout on white supremacist attitudes is from another Church statement that was made when general calls to “not be racist” were twisted by white supremacists within the Church to say that the Church supported their stance. Also, throughout the sample document presented in the post above, there are plenty of references to “all people,” “any of us who has prejudice,” etc. Those are terms that cover multiple races, not just whites. Finally, it should be pointed out that it isn’t an apology so much as an admission of past mistakes.

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