“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head”—Gathering resources against racism

Suppose you wanted to teach a Sunday school lesson on the Word of Wisdom. If you perform a search at LDS.org you’ll find a long list of ready-to-go full lesson outlines. Suppose you wanted to give a talk warning about pornography. A search there will yield a long list of conference addresses from which you could draw. But suppose you wanted to teach a lesson on racism. It gets a lot more difficult.

Why? And what can be done?

Racism is a problem in the Church, as many members who are people of color attest to. Gordon B. Hinckley explicitly identified racism as an ongoing problem in the Church in several conference addresses. And yet, a basic search at LDS.org apparently locates no complete Sunday school lessons devoted to the subject. You’ll find a few conference addresses that decry racism, but practically none that focus on it as the main theme.

We’re studying Doctrine & Covenants this year in Sunday school, which provides an opportunity to construct a lesson on racism using all approved resources. Lesson 42 covers Official Declaration 2, announcing the revelation to extend priesthood and temple blessings to members of African descent. The lesson in the manual doesn’t focus as directly on racism as it could, but does offer other resources as suggestions for building a customized lesson. In other words, teachers will have to create the lesson themselves (non-teachers will have to hope they have a teacher who will). I prepared a lesson on racism this weekend, bumping lesson 42 up, current events being what they are.

The Gospel Topics essay on race and the priesthood has plenty to draw from. I structured my lesson around this approved resource. I also found some great (though isolated and somewhat peripheral) quotes from General Authorities against racism. I also used the Book of Mormon’s Enos, who underwent a conversion that changed his heart about his “enemies” the Lamanites. If you aren’t a person of color, you likely have other people of color in the ward who can share their personal stories. Talk to them beforehand about how they might like to be involved.

If you do this in accordance with the guidelines given to teachers in the Church, there are almost certainly people in your congregation who will be grateful for your efforts.

But you also risk making some people uncomfortable who otherwise wouldn’t blink at just another lesson on the Word of Wisdom or other things like that. In part, because such a lesson will seem unusual to them due to the fact that it isn’t in our usual rotation. In part because we as a people haven’t taken racism seriously enough yet. We still have lots of work to do.

Take care in how you cover these things in Sunday school. Be prepared in the event anyone feels the need to push back or express racist ideas in response. Testify with love.

During the lesson today I shared a photograph that I took in the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr. Martin Luther King’s funeral was held. In that dark basement I was impressed by a window hanging over an empty bench, letting light in, where the darkness comprehends it not.

I’m thankful for the resources the Church has made available thus far. I pray for more in the future.

Here are some quotes I used. Please share your favorite resources in the comments:

Gordon B. Hinckley: Racism places a person out of harmony with Christ and the Church

“I have wondered why there is so much hatred in the world. We are involved in terrible wars with lives lost and many crippling wounds…Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no [person] who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider [themselves] a true disciple of ChristNor can [they] consider [themselves] to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ…There is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.”

(Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness.”)

Howard W. Hunter: No one is an alien

“As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the people of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all [humankind].

In the message of the gospel, the entire human race is one family descended from a single God. All men and women have not only a lineage leading back to Adam and Eve, their first earthly parents, but also a spiritual heritage leading back to God…Thus, all persons on earth are literally brothers and sisters in the family of God….

This is a message of life and love that strikes squarely against all stifling traditions based on race, language, economic or political standing, educational rank, or cultural background, for we are all of the same spiritual descent. We have a divine pedigree; every person is a spiritual child of God.

In this gospel view there is no room for a contracted, narrow, or prejudicial view. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: ‘Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.’ (History of the Church, 4:227.)

In the gospel view, no [person] is alien.”

(Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel–A Global Faith.”)

 

Comments

  1. Apologies that the post is a bit rambly. I hope to do a better post at some point, especially drawing on some of your favorite sources.

  2. While not LDS.org approved (maybe yet!) some of us have worked on this resource that brings together scholarship and testimony in a easy-to-understand little booklet so that more members can learn to be better and do better when it comes to dismantling racism in society.

    Please read and share.

  3. Thanks for this great resource, EmJen.

  4. joanna brooks says:

    we are working on getting this resource launched as soon as possible. we welcome anyone who wants to contribute feedback or serve as an advisory board member. we should have a formal site launch soon . . . 9/1 I am hoping.

  5. That’s really great, EmJen. Thanks for commenting about it.

  6. Thank you for this post! And for the link EmJen, I will take the time to read it.

  7. Gaylene Pheysey says:

    Thank you for putting this together!

  8. Happy Hubby says:

    I had some of the same thoughts. It didn’t help that just on Friday I finished reading “For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism” and then started reading the Gregory Prince book of “David O. McKay”.

  9. Great lesson, Blair. I hope it gets taught all around the church.

  10. Excellent thoughts and material, Blair. Thank you! Definitely a good resource!