SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A high-ranking leader from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vowed support this week for “peaceful efforts to overcome racism” while lamenting that some people in the movements are attacking religious freedom.
Quentin L. Cook also defended early church leader Brigham Young, who has been criticized for espousing racist views during his lifetime in the 1800s. Young instituted a ban on Black men from being in the religion’s lay priesthood that was rooted in a belief that black skin was a curse and stayed in effect until 1978.
Cook, who is a member of the faith’s top governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave the speech to faculty at church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He urged church members to heed the words of church President Russell M. Nelson, who said two years ago “to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation.”
“We all support peaceful efforts to overcome racial and social injustice. This needs to be accomplished,” said Cook, according to a transcript provided by church officials. “My concern is that some are also trying to undermine the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights that has blessed this country and protected people of all faiths. We need to protect religious freedom.”
The faith, widely known as the Mormon church, has been trying to improve race relations in recent decades as it attempts to dispel accusations of racism against the church that reached a peak in the 1960s when civil rights activists targeted Brigham Young University with demonstrations and boycotts.
Black men and women were always allowed to be church members, but the nearly century-long priesthood ban kept them from participating in many important rituals.
Church leaders in recent years have denounced white supremacy and racism and launched a formal alliance with the NAACP. In June, Nelson condemned the denial of basic freedoms because of the color of a person’s skin after George Floyd’s death.
Shortly after Floyd’s death, a statute of Young that stands on the Brigham Young University campus was doused in red paint this year with the word “racist” written amid a national reckoning over statutes and monuments of historical figures who are considered racist.
Cook acknowledged that Young “said things about race that fall short of our standards today” but said some of Young’s beliefs reflected the culture of his time. He said Young “cared deeply about the spiritual and physical welfare” of church members, taught that the faith didn’t “care about color” and “admired” Native Americans.
Speaking generally about what he described as sometimes unfair criticism of the church and past leaders, Cook pointed to comments by a church history director who cautioned against taking historical statements or events out of context to look alarming.
“One area that can help us to build faith is to be particularly sensitive in creating unity and being grateful for diversity,” Cook said. “We are in a particularly heated period when deep and personal wrongs have been highlighted among our Black brothers and sisters. We each need to be at the forefront of righteously repenting.”
Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press.
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