On June 1, 2020, Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) issued a public statement addressing “recent events.” Please click here to read the statement in its entirety.
What exactly constitutes “recent events”, is unclear….
Is it the political mobilization of black citizens demanding an end to the violent murder of people of color at the hands of law enforcement?
Is it a U.S. President who has sworn an oath to the Constitution (a document the LDS Church considers divinely inspired), yet shows no qualms in violating it by illegally using military force against citizens at home and racialized populations abroad?
Is it an American president not only being above the rule of law, but being aggressively in-your-face about it?
Is it an American President laying the groundwork for a fascist dictatorship while rank and file republicans remain mute?
Is it how the pandemic has highlighted systemic inequalities that disproportionately impact people of color as measured in economic outcomes and body counts?
Or is it the public demonstrations that make white Mormons feel uncomfortable, perhaps even unsafe? Is it the looting and damage to private property that prompted the LDS Church to issue a public statement?
It is very difficult knowing exactly what is being referred to in the opening line of the public declaration, “We join with many throughout this nation and around the world who are deeply saddened at recent evidences of racism and a blatant disregard for human life…”
Sadly, the only specific acts the LDS Statement refers to are “looting, defacing, or destroying public or private property” which, according to the LDS Church “cannot be tolerated.”
I find it tragic, offensive, ignorant, and quite frankly, fucking racist that the LDS Church makes no specific reference to the criminal murders of black folks at the hands of law enforcement, but specifically calls attention to looting and destruction of property.
Their statement that “We abhor the reality that some would deny others respect and the most basic freedoms because of the color of his or her skin” places the blame of violence inflicted on black lives at the feet of individual perpetrators while actively ignoring the systematic racism that pervades not only LDS Church culture but the entire structure of capitalism, policing and incarceration in western society.
Let’s switch our attention to the solutions that LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson suggests:
“We need to foster our faith in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.”
Would this be the same brotherhood (the priesthood) that men of color were denied entrance to prior to 1972? Are we supposed to actively ignore the role the civil rights movement played in influencing the LDS Church to extend the priesthood to black men? And are we also to ignore that the LDS Church made the decision NOT to support the Civil Rights Movement for fear of alienating white membership (Love, 1984).
“We need to foster a fundamental respect for the human dignity of every human soul, regardless of their color, creed, or cause.”
What exactly is meant by human dignity? Is it having access to clean water, nourishing food and safe housing? Is it being able to go for a run without being publicly executed? Is it ensuring that the women and children who manufacture our iPhones and MacBooks in countries abroad have the economic and political power to live self-determined lives? If the LDS Church is so concerned about human dignity, wouldn’t they be vocally advocating for basics needs such as universal health care so marginalized populations would NEVER have to choose between accessing the health care they require and eating.
“And we need to work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation.”
Bridges of understanding will not dismantle institutionalized racism. It is not the role of black, brown, Indigenous people of color to educate the white populace about the oppression they have faced at the hands of white aggressors both at home and abroad.
Dismantling oppression is not about having nice, polite conversations that keep everyone comfortable. Although many political activists and intellectuals have engaged in polite conversations and quiet acts of protest, it would seem that structural change requires action. If rioting and looting makes white LDS Church members feel vulnerable, then for one bloody moment they should think about racialized parents who must educate their children on how to survive being stopped by the police.
“I plead with us to work together for peace, for mutual respect, and for an outpouring of love for all of God’s children.”
This is about WAY more than mutual respect. This is about life and death. Stop reducing the seriousness of the situation to empty platitudes.
Although the LDS Church claims to be politically neutral, highlighting looting and property destruction while concurrently framing the murder of black people in the United States as “denying others respect and […] freedom because of the color of his or her skin” is blatently political. To suggest otherwise is gaslighting.
When the LDS Church issues a statement provoked by looting after having failed to issue a statement against institutionalized murder, the church would benefit from heeding their own advice to look inward “to cultivate a moral compass that helps them distinguish between right and wrong.”
As many of my readers know, I requested my name be removed from the official LDS Church member registry in 2008 when the church played an dominant role in Proposition 8 – a California State constitutional amendment overturning the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Although you can take the girl out of the Church, you can’t take the Church out of the girl. For good or bad, the Mormon faith is part of my heritage and staying silent on the offensive statement by LDS Church leadership would be a violation of my personal moral compass.
But there is one sentence from the LDS statement that I find of value:
“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.”
I call your bluff President Russell M. Nelson. In my sphere of influence, I challenge faithful Mormons, secular intellectuals, and those who read my blog for shits and giggles to think long and hard about a supposed prophet moved by looting, but unmoved by structural racism that mark black and brown bodies for institutional murder.
Do better President Russell M. Nelson.
Love, A. R. 1984. “The First Presidency’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement.” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal Vol. 4, pp. 41-50.