ST. GEORGE – A call for greater civility, mutual respect and racial harmony came from the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP Thursday morning following a meeting between representatives of the two groups in Salt Lake City.
“… All people are God’s precious children and therefore our brothers and sisters,” LDS church President Russell M. Nelson said during a press conference. At his side were his counselors, presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring.
“Today, in unity with such capable and impressive leaders as the national officials of the NAACP, we are impressed to call on people of this nation and, indeed, the entire world to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s words were followed by those of Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP.
“We compliment The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its good faith efforts to bless not only its members, but people throughout the United States and, indeed, the world in so many ways,” Johnson said. “The NAACP, through our mission, we are clear that it is our job to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. And we do so in an advocacy voice, but now with a partner who seeks to pursue harmony and civility within our community. I am proud to stand here today to open up a dialog to seek ways of common interest to work towards a higher purpose. This is a great opportunity. Thank you for this moment.”
The joint statement made by the civil rights group and the LDS church comes two weeks ahead of the 40th anniversary of the church dropping a ban on African-Americans being a part of faith’s lay priesthood. A musical celebration observing the anniversary is slated for June 1 at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City.
Though Nelson and other members of the LDS church’s first presidency did not take questions following the press conference, the NAACP did. They were asked about the church’s former ban on black being part of the religion’s lay clergy.
Johnson said evolving organizations must be better at addressing today’s needs. Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP board of directors, spoke more directly about the ban and applauded the Mormon church’s decision to celebrate the anniversary.
“Any religious domination in the United States at some point had a history that included discrimination and repression of Africans in America so the recognition by this church that it needed to evolve needs to be celebrated,” Russell said.
Shortly after the press conference, a fake online news story stated Nelson had offered an apology related to the church’s priesthood ban. News outlets such as The Salt Lake Tribune, Associated Press and others were quick to report the false nature of the story that sat on a website designed to look like the LDS church’s official news site.
Neither Nelson or any other church official issued such an apology during Thursday’s meeting or press conference.
According to Fox 13 News, when asked about it, Russell, of the NAACP, said, “I think it’s not for us to demand an apology. I think the church in its own way will come to that conclusion based in their own spiritual feelings and on their belief.”
In 2013, the LDS church posted an essay disavowing the ban and the reasons behind it, saying it was put into place during an era of great racial divide that influenced early teachings of the church.
The 2,000-word piece was the most comprehensive explanation of why the religion had barred men of African descent from the lay clergy and was lauded by many as an important step in the religion’s history. Others, though, said they wished it had gone further and included a formal apology.
Prior to the Thursday’s meeting, there hadn’t been much in the way of dialogue or a connection between the church and the NAACP.
“The thing that is great about this morning is that we’ve begun a dialogue, a dialogue that I think will be fruitful,” Russell said.
The complete statements from the LDS church and NAACP can be read below:
LDS church President Russell M. Nelson
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to affirm its fundamental doctrine – and our heartfelt conviction – that all people are God’s precious children and therefore our brothers and sisters. Nearly a quarter century ago, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles proclaimed that “All human beings – male and female – are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
Today, in unity with such capable and impressive leaders as the national officials of the NAACP, we are impressed to call on people of this nation and, indeed, the entire world to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect. In meetings this morning, we have begun to explore ways – such as education and humanitarian service – in which our respective members and others can serve and move forward together, lifting our brothers and sisters who need our help, just as the Savior, Jesus Christ, would do. These are His words: “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).
Together we invite all people, organizations and governmental units to work with greater civility, eliminating prejudice of all kinds and focusing more on the many areas and interests that we all have in common. As we lead our people to work cooperatively, we will all achieve the respect, regard and blessings that God seeks for all of His children. Thank you very much.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson
President Nelson, the statement you just made expresses the very core of our beliefs and mission at the NAACP. We admire and share your optimism that all peoples can work together in harmony and should collaborate more on areas of common interest. Thank you.
To the media, as the NAACP celebrates this 64th anniversary of the landmark decision Brown vs. Board of Education, like the Latter-day Saints, we believe all people, organizations and government representatives should come together to work to secure peace and happiness for all God’s children. Unitedly, we call on all people to work in greater harmony, civility and respect for the beliefs of others to achieve this supreme and universal goal.
We compliment The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its good faith efforts to bless not only its members, but people throughout the United States and, indeed, the world in so many ways. The NAACP, through our mission, we are clear that it is our job to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. And we do so in an advocacy voice, but now with a partner who seeks to pursue harmony and civility within our community. I am proud to stand here today to open up a dialog to seek ways of common interest to work towards a higher purpose. This is a great opportunity. Thank you for this moment.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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