The history of Black slavery in the United States is shameful and the idea that Black lives matter is an eternal truth that should be universally accepted, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Tuesday on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo.
“Love is fundamental,” the apostle said during the first campus devotional with a handful of live spectators since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March. Tickets were randomly distributed to 1,200 students, faculty and staff who wore masks and sat in physically distanced, assigned seats in the 19,000-seat Marriott Center.
President Oaks talked about the disruption to students’ lives caused by the pandemic and about the increase in anxiety on church college and university campuses but, as he did during the church’s general conference earlier this month, President Oaks said racism is an ongoing issue in the United States.
“The recent nationwide protests were fueled by powerful feelings that this country suffers from and must abolish racism,” he said.
“The shocking police-produced death of George Floyd in Minnesota last May was surely the trigger for these nationwide protests, whose momentum was carried forward under the message of ‘Black Lives Matter,’” President Oaks added. “Of course, Black lives matter. That is an eternal truth all reasonable people should support. Unfortunately, that persuasive banner was sometimes used or understood to stand for other things that do not command universal support. Examples include abolishing the police or seriously reducing their effectiveness or changing our constitutional government. All these are appropriate subjects for advocacy, but not under what we hope to be the universally accepted message: Black lives matter.”
A full transcript of his talk is available online at Newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
President Oaks said he was “thrilled” to hear President Russell M. Nelson’s “powerful doctrinal condemnation of racism and prejudice in his talk at general conference,” in which the church president said he “grieved that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice.”
President Nelson again condemned racism and called on Latter-day Saints “to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group of God’s children.”
“Now, with prophetic clarification, let us all heed our prophet’s call to repent, to change and to improve,” President Oaks said. “Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can unite and bring peace to people of all races and nationalities. We who believe in that gospel — whatever our origins — must unite in love of each other and of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
President Oaks also spoke about American history and the movement by some to tear down statues or remove names from institutions and buildings.
“... We must have clear thinking about how current events should be analyzed and acted upon in view of this nation’s shameful history of Black slavery,” he said. “We need to understand how the founders postponed resolving that moral issue to obtain the ratification of the Constitution for the creation of this nation.”
He noted that some BYU students and others have called for changing the name of the university and some of its buildings.
“For reasons that every serious student of American history understands, even the Constitution of the United States is stained with concessions to slavery that were made in order to get the whole document ratified,” he said. “Those textual stains were, of course, removed by the amendments following the Civil War, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives throughout the North and the South. I cannot condone our now erasing all mention and honor of prominent leaders like George Washington who established our nation and gave us our Constitution because they lived at a time with legal approvals and traditions that condoned slavery.”
He suggested the example of Winston Churchill, who won power in Great Britain after the appeasement of Hitler’s Germany by the previous British government. Some wanted to punish those who had appeased the Nazis, but Churchill refused, saying, “... if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”
“This is our current state,” President Oaks said. “We share our history and enjoy the advantages of our constitutional government and the prosperity of this nation. The predecessors of many Americans of different backgrounds made great sacrifices to establish this nation. Whatever those sacrifices — of freedom, property or even life — let us now honor them for what they have done for us and forgo quarreling over the past. Ours is the duty to unite and improve the future we will share.”
President Oaks talked about other recent examples of racism in the United States.
“The examples most familiarly reported by the media today are those that victimize Black Americans,” he said. “These include the police brutality and other systemic discrimination in employment and housing, publicized recently. Racism is still recognizable in official and personal treatment of Latinos and Native Americans.”
Tuesday’s devotional was another in a long line of recent statements by him and other senior church leaders condemning racism.
Two years ago, President Nelson issued a call for all people “to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation” during the church’s “Be One” celebration.
President Oaks acknowledged that students have been faced with disruptions to their schooling, church activities and job opportunities. He counseled them to help curb the pandemic.
“And remember, that some of the burdensome restrictions, including even the wearing of masks, are not only for your immediate protection but also for the well-being of those around you,” he said.
President Oaks also addressed anxiety, a topic he discussed at length during a BYU-Hawaii devotional last year. He described a student who used “a combination of hard work, counseling, competent medical help, prayer and continued support of family and church leaders.”
“Whatever the causes of large increases in anxiety and associated mental health diagnoses, our first line of defense is always our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “We trust in his promises of peace, and in the cleansing that his atonement makes possible. Instead of being swept along in the anxiety and fear that is characteristic of your generation, rely on the assurances of a loving Heavenly Father.”
The students, faculty and staff who attended Tuesday’s devotional were also required to show they had a green indicator on the daily checkup screen of the Healthy Together app, which BYU is using to help the campus community complete a daily checkup and to contact trace the spread of COVID-19.