President of Church of Jesus Christ and NAACP leaders call for changes to root out racism
Joint op-ed published by President Russell M. Nelson, President Derrick Johnson, Leon Russell and the Rev. Amos C. Brown
SALT LAKE CITY — In a joint op-ed published Monday by Medium, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the senior national leaders of the NAACP called for racial reform in America’s homes, schools, businesses and political bodies.
“We share deep sorrow for the senseless, heinous act of violence that needlessly took the life of George Floyd. We mourn with his family, friends and community,” the four co-authors wrote in an 844-word piece that is the latest product of an unexpected partnership that began two years ago.
The piece was signed by the presidents of both organizations — President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2018, and Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP since 2017. The other signers are Leon Russell, chairman of the NAACP’s national board of directors, and the Rev. Amos C. Brown, the emeritus chairman of religious affairs and former student of Martin Luther King Jr.
They called on parents and families to be the first line of defense because “prejudice, hate and discrimination are learned.”
They also called for changes to end systemic racism.
“We likewise call on government, business and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all,” they added. “It is past time for every one of us to elevate our conversations above divisive and polarizing rhetoric. Treating others with respect matters. Treating each other as sons and daughters of God matters.”
“Those are the sentences I like. I love that, it’s great,” said LaShawn Williams, a black Latter-day Saint and assistant professor in social work at Utah Valley University. “They are talking about changing processes. Processes are systems. The same way Windows 10 is set up to function in a certain way, racism exists in the systems in our schools, businesses and governments.”
Johnson, the NAACP president who co-authored the Medium piece, went to Twitter on Sunday to thank Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah — a Latter-day Saint — for marching in a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C. Johnson used the hashtag #WeAreDoneDying.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering new police reforms and a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has signaled it intends to defund and dismantle the city’s police department in favor of a new public safety department.
The op-ed acknowledged that some may consider the NAACP and Latter-day Saints to be unlikely collaborators.
The NAACP is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The 6.7 million American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are 85% white and 1% African American, according to Pew Research Center data. The church has 16.5 million members worldwide, with more than 667,000 in Africa and 5.6 million in Mexico and South America, according to Church Newsroom.
The op-ed appeared on the 42nd anniversary of the church’s announcement of a revelation lifting a restriction on blacks holding the priesthood and receiving temple blessings.
The leaders wrote that they have created a significant connection based on their common bond as religious leaders and followers of Jesus Christ. They agreed, for example, that there is a joint, heavenly call “to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children.”
The agreement went further.
“The wheels of justice should move fairly for all,” they wrote in the Medium piece.
“Unitedly we declare that the answers to racism, prejudice, discrimination and hate will not come from government or law enforcement alone,” they added. “Solutions will come as we open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, as we work to build bonds of genuine friendship, and as we see each other as the brothers and sisters we are — for we are all children of a loving God.”
That resonated with Eugene Orr, who was a founding member of the Genesis group for black Latter-day Saints in 1971.
“The door is open now,” Orr said. “I applaud the NAACP leaders and President Nelson for their comments. I’m excited for what’s happening throughout the world. It’s well past time to rise above the division sewn by Satan.”
Nearly 30 months into his administration, it is now clear President Nelson’s legacy certainly will include this effort to address black-white race relations. Last week, in a statement posted on social media, he provided another clear mandate to the church’s members: “Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent!”
Monday’s op-ed jointly repeated President Nelson’s previous call that “we strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation.”
The church’s relationship with national NAACP leadership began in early 2018 after Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made a courtesy call to the famous NAACP office in Jackson, Mississippi, the base of operations for legendary civil rights activist Medgar Evers before he was assassinated in 1963. The office needed repairs, and the church paid for new carpets, paint and plumbing and electrical repairs and provided missionaries to do the labor.
That spring, the NAACP held its national board meeting in Utah for the first time and President Nelson, Johnson, Russell and the Rev. Brown stood together and called on the world “to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect.”
President Nelson and the Rev. Brown linked arms, a gesture that has come to symbolize the relationship.
That summer, the two organizations announced a partnership to provide pragmatic aid by tailoring educational materials and instruction on self reliance to economically disadvantaged communities in some of America’s largest cities.
Last year, with the completion of the partnership’s first customized self-reliance courses on finances, education and business, President Nelson spoke at the NAACP’s national convention in Detroit, where he said, “We want to become dear friends.”