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BYU devotional: Black professor says ‘racism does not fit a disciple of Christ’

Ryan Gabriel asked Latter-day Saints to help end ‘the sin of racism’ and said ignoring race adds to the problem.

Rebeca Fuentes

A Black BYU professor asked the campus community this week to help end “the sin of racism” and explained why ignoring race is harmful as he delivered the university’s weekly devotional.

“Our church has made clear that racism does not fit a disciple of Christ,” said Ryan Gabriel, an assistant professor of sociology. “Without question, it is a sin to believe that the color of one’s skin or cultural heritage makes one inherently better than another,” he added.

Tuesday’s devotional came two days after President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns and operates BYU, described the church as “a great global family.” The general conference included Black, Asian, Latina, Filipino and Pacific Islander speakers, among others, from eight countries.

Gabriel highlighted strong statements about ending racism from President Nelson and President Dallin H. Oaks of the church’s First Presidency in recent general conference and BYU devotional addresses, and noted that “hatred toward one’s brothers and sisters, which is ultimately hatred toward God” still exists.

He asked Latter-day Saints to address and apologize for racism they find within the church and on the BYU campus.

“The Savior took upon himself sin for which he was not responsible,” he said. “He did so because he loves us; we can do so because we love him.”

Gabriel was a member of BYU’s ad hoc Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging. Last month, the committee released a 63-page report that stated “the BYU community must work expeditiously and without delay to lead out in identifying and rooting out racism at Brigham Young University.”

BYU professor Ryan Gabriel.
Rebeca Fuentes

Among other things, the committee found some use of racist slurs in the campus community. The committee’s 26 recommendations to the university can be seen here.

“The president and President’s Council has taken this report and recommendations very seriously,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said via email. The council has adopted some recommendations and is studying the rest.

BYU President Kevin Worthen introduced Gabriel in the virtual devotional, which originated from the Marriott Center with a limited, in-person audience due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said he specializes in urban sociology, racial residential segregation and the legacies of racial violence. The devotional can be viewed on BYUtv.org.

“Without question,” Gabriel said Tuesday, “it is a sin to believe that the color of one’s skin or cultural heritage makes one inherently better than another.”

“There is no need for us to look like anyone else to be worthy of love and respect,” he said. “Our skin tones are as they should be, as God made them. And they are beautiful.”

Some people attempt not to see race, which Gabriel said can be easy and often innocent. However, he added, Jesus Christ taught disciples to love another generously. Ignoring race makes that impossible, he said.

“To pretend that race is unimportant by saying, ‘I don’t see race’ — or to falsely diminish the impacts of racism on the lives of Heavenly Father’s children — does nothing to stop racism,” Gabriel said. “Christ does not ask us to ignore or wish away another’s pain but to know it and touch it.”

President Nelson has made rooting out racism a focal point of his administration, entering a partnership with the NAACP to provide new resources to help inner-city Blacks and calling on all people to “build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation.”

After the death of George Floyd, he took to social media to post a statement, saying he was deeply saddened by the racism and disregard for human life.

“The Creator of us all calls on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children,” he added. “Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent!”

President Nelson also said “each of us (is) the child of a loving Father in Heaven.”

Gabriel asked Latter-day Saints to develop a testimony that each person comes from the same Heavenly Parents.

“The Savior invites all of us to share in his abundant gifts of love and redemption, where racial and economic status are inconsequential, where each of us can partake of his nourishing word and where we are inherently equal,” he said.

On Saturday, two Latter-day Saint apostles — Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Elder Garrit W. Gong, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — spoke out against racism in general conference, calling for the church to become Christ’s inn of refuge, inclusion, kindness and civility, with room for all and no second-class citizens.

Six of BYU’s 1,400 faculty members are Black. Tuesday’s devotional was the first by a Black professor since 2007, when Elder Peter M. Johnson, now a General Authority Seventy of the church and then an assistant professor of accounting professor, delivered a devotional titled “Faith, Family and Friendship.”

Elder Johnson is the church’s first African American general authority.

BYU has had several Black speakers at recent university forums, which alternate with devotionals every Tuesday. Recent examples include Dambisa Moyo, Melody Barnes, Marcus Roberts and Bryan Stevenson, who was mentioned by Elder Gary E. Stevenson in his general conference address on Saturday. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/?event=forum

Six months ago, President Nelson and President Oaks spoke plainly about rooting out racism in the church and world.

“Today, I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children,” President Nelson said.

President Oaks followed up a week later at a BYU devotional by saying that Black lives do matter and calling on church members “to heed our prophet’s call to repent, to change and to improve.”

Gabriel suggested several remedies for racism. They included gratitude for diversity, forgiveness and brave people who sacrificed their lives while promoting racial justice.