No More Disposition to Speak Evil: A Lesson Plan to Address Racism in the Church

Here is a lesson plan for BCC readers who need a Sunday School or Relief Society/Elder’s Quorum lesson to address white nationalism. I welcome constructive feedback and will update this lesson plan periodically to incorporate it, so that it can be a living resource for the future.

Opening Hymn: I’m Trying to be Like Jesus

Objective: Teach members how to use the peaceable doctrine of Christ to confront concrete examples of racism in their everyday lives.

INTRODUCTION

Back in seminary and institute, we often repeated the same lesson topics and drilled the same scripture mastery verses. When we students started complaining about the call-and-response messages and rote “seminary answers,” our teachers had a strong rebuttal: the repetition is the point. We are commanded to “sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15). Fulfilling that commandment to “be ready always” requires practice.

Reading our scriptures every day helps our minds turn often to meditation on the Word. Sincere daily prayer prompts us to choose to engage in the small acts of turning our hearts toward God. These practices further our goal as Christians is to cultivate “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)

Part of learning morality requires practice at applying true principles to specific everyday situations.

Opening Discussion Question: What are some examples of times you encountered a difficult everyday situation, and had to wrestle with a choice about how to put your beliefs into practice?

Sample / Anticipated Class Answers

  • Sabbath Day Observance: Declining to attend an activity and suggesting alternates.
  • Word of Wisdom: Turning down forbidden substances when offered.
  • Tithing: Choosing to donate 10% as soon as the paycheck arrives, rather than waiting until the end of the year when it’s much harder to catch-up.
  • Charity: Listening to a prompting to buy lunch for an unhoused man on the street.
  • Obscene Media: Walking out of a movie. Throwing away CDs/DVDs. Installing WiFi content filters.
  • Good Influences: Seeking out friends who build each other up, not those who lie, gossip, or tear each other down.

Great examples! One reason we come together as a religious community is to discuss how to respond with faith to the multitude of hypothetical and real dilemmas we all face every day. Talking through specific examples helps us “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Nephi 19:23).

Bridge to Main Discussion: Today we’re going to discuss, and practice, how to respond to a pernicious and pervasive evil in our communities: racism, particularly white nationalism.

MAIN LESSON

All Are Alike Unto God.

God loves all of his children and welcomes all into his fold. Engaging in racist or white nationalist rhetoric and actions is a serious offense against God, as explained by these Church sources.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.” Race and the Church, Are All Alike Unto God (2012)

“God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

“True community begins with … loving our neighbor; with honoring and serving each other. This is the spirit behind the cooperation shared by the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” NAACP Convention Remarks, Russell M. Nelson (2019)

“The pure love of Christ [is] kind, meek, and lowly….it has no place for bigotry, hatred, or violence….It encourages diverse people to live together in Christian love regardless of religious belief, race, nationality, financial standing, education, or culture.” A More Excellent Way, Howard W. Hunter (1992).

Racism is a Serious Sin Against Christ.

Leaders of the Church have condemned the sin of racism, acknowledging that it all too often still exists within the hearts of the members of this Church.

“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. … No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ.” Racial Intolerance, Gordon B. Hinckley (2006)

“White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a white culture or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.” Newsroom Statement on Charlottesville, VA (2017)

“The Church calls on all people to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group or individual.” Prejudice, Handbook Section 38.6.14 (2020)

DISCUSSION CONFRONTING EVERYDAY RACISM

Church teachings are clear that God loves everyone and racism is a sin, and yet I’m sure all of us have heard racist remarks from people we know. Sadly, we likely have even heard those remarks at Church or from Church members. Sometimes our co-religionists even reference scripture or historical statements to justify their racist attitudes. When we see that happen, we need to be “be ready always to give an answer” to stand for truth and righteousness by correcting them. If we ignore racism, it will fester.

The following are common, unacceptable, statements made in our communities. Let us discuss as a class how to effectively correct them.

Scripture and Church History Should Not Be Used to Justify Racism

Inappropriate Statements:

  • Dark skin is part of the curse of Cain for murdering his brother Abel, or the curse God placed on the Lamanites for unrighteousness.
  • Black people were “less valiant in the preexistence” before coming to Earth.
  • The ancient Israelites were permitted by God to cast out strangers not of their race, religion, and culture, so we can too.
  • White or light skin is a sign of God’s favor.

Proposed Corrections:

“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” Race and the Priesthood (2013).

“The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us.” Jesus Christ: Gifts and Expectations, Ezra Taft Benson (1974).

“We invite all to pray to God that the people of this land will heed the Divine call to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children….Prejudice, hate and discrimination are learned. Thus, we call on parents, family members, and teachers to be the first line of defense.” Locking Arms for Racial Harmony in America, Russell M. Nelson & NAACP (2020)

Racist Attitudes Prevalent in Society Should Not Infect The Body of Christ

Inappropriate Statement: Immigrants and refugees who do not learn our language or assimilate with our culture should go back to where they came from.

Correction: The Church’s “I Was A Stranger” refugee program urges us to extend compassion to everyone seeking refuge because their homes have become unstable due to violence, war, natural disasters, or religious persecution.

Inappropriate Statement: Black Lives Matter is a hate group, All Lives Matter!

Correction: Church leaders have recognized that Black lives matter and that Latter-day Saints should work to root out the legacies of slavery. All people are children of God who deserve love, safety, and respect. As part of the body of Christ, we are taught that if “one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corin. 12:26) and that we should “mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9). As the Prophet recently taught, “I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.” Let God Prevail, Russell M. Nelson (2020).

One way we as Latter-day Saints can mourn together is to “unite to root out racism.  “To do that, 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. … 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.’ Of course Black lives matter! That is an eternal truth all reasonable people should support.”  Racism and Other Challenges, Dallin H. Oaks (2020).

Inappropriate Statement: All disparagements of lower-income individuals, which are disproportionately used against people of color. These include:

  • Statements that building lower-income or multi-family housing, or a nonprofit offering food and shelter services for the unhoused, will “destroy the character of the neighborhood”
  • Statements that people are “welfare queens” or “trash” who need to get a job and learn self-reliance
  • Statements that poor people do not deserve food, shelter, health care (for any reason)
  • Statements that it’s ok for (white) individuals from middle-class backgrounds to use food stamps, WIC benefits, SNAP benefits, or Medicaid in order to make ends meets, because eventually they will get high-salary jobs and “pay back into the system.”

Correction: Our duty as Christians is to alleviate the ever-present suffering on Earth.

We are commanded to “succor those that stand in need of your succor. Ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” (Mosiah 4:16)

Scripture even anticipates our common, sinful response. “Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent.” (Mosiah 4:17-18)

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Elder Renlund told a story about a medical doctor who complained about treating a patient who was suffering ailments associates with alcoholism. “[Dr. Jones] felt it was unfair that she would have to spend many hours caring for [the patient], because his predicament was, after all, self-inflicted. [Her supervisor’s] emphatic response was spoken in almost a whisper. He said, “Dr. Jones. you became a physician to care for people and work to heal them. You didn’t become a physician to judge them.” Do Justly, Love Mercy, Dale G. Renlund (2020).

Inappropriate Statement: [Offensive stereotype] was just a joke! Everyone is just too politically correct these days. In the old days those statements were commonplace, we can’t expect old attitudes to change that quickly.

Correction: [Offensive stereotype] was wrong then, and it is still wrong now. When you know better, do better. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about always learning, always repenting, and enduring to the end. “What is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

Past prejudice is no excuse for current sin. Particularly not when leaders of this Church, Christians throughout the centuries, and Jesus Christ himself have excoriated the evils of racism and cultural prejudice.

“‘We call upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.” The Fight Between Good and Evil, Hugh B. Brown (1963).

Inappropriate Statement: American culture is under attack and pretty soon minorities will take over, we cannot let them overtake us! We must preserve our traditional values! We need to be like Captain Moroni and raise a Title of Liberty and then go to war to fight to make sure our government is not overrun by globalists!

Correction: These sentiments are thinly-coded references to a white nationalist agenda; they must be rejected in their entirety by disciples of Christ. The Church does not advocate for the violent overthrow of democratic governments. “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith 1:12).

“[This] means that we obey the current law and use peaceful means to change it. It also means that we peacefully accept the results of elections. We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome….Protesters have no right to destroy, deface, or steal property or to undermine the government’s legitimate police powers. The Constitution and laws contain no invitation to revolution or anarchy.” Love Your Enemies, Dallin H. Oaks (2020)

It is unacceptable for individuals to use the name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Book of Mormon stories as justifications for crimes. The warning of Captain Moroni’s story is that “there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words” of a wicked man seeking to become a king, which caused them to “dissent even from the church” and the gospel of love and peace. (See Alma 46.)

CONCLUSION

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , we have been asked to devote the same energy to rooting out racism as we do to the other pernicious sins in the world. Let us go forth with a renewed commitment to preach the peaceable gospel of Christ’s universal love.

Comments

  1. Outstanding, Carolyn! I especially appreciate the responses to common racist ideas or statements in the discussion section. These will be useful even to those of us who are just encountering everyday racism at church, even if we don’t have enough pull to get a whole class held on the issue.

  2. This is an excellent lesson! It is so necessary. I wish I could teach it tomorrow in Relief Society instead of the lesson I am teaching.

  3. Barb — I strongly recommend sending your own note (link to the lesson or not) to your relief society president / bishop / stake president asking if something similar can be taught soon. I’m in active dialogue with my local leaders on that topic.

  4. Interesting idea for a lesson. I suspect there are some geographic areas where this lesson would lead to much contention that would prevent any positive effects. Living where I do, I never encounter the examples cited. It’s more manifested in the failure to engage with members or investigators who come from diverse backgrounds. Perhaps you are only working on this topic at the stage of what Elder Maxwell described as leaving behind the grosser sins, but I would be interested in a future lesson that discusses a gospel approach to overcoming the inertia and excuses that make loving our neighbors too often an aspiration rather than an actual part of our lives.

  5. Geoff-Aus says:

    In Australia at present we are on day 4 of a 5 day test match against India. This is match 3 of 5 matches. Today an indian fielder who was near the fence to the crowd complained of racial comments from the croud. The game was stopped, the indian fielder pointed out the section of the crowd, security police questioned members of the crowd, and 4 young men were removed from the crowd. No close up pictures of the perpetraters were shown. The cricket organizers relesed a statement saying they would be banned for years.
    If the Washington insurrection had occured in Australia I believe there would be agreement to not show or pixel out the faces of the main perpetrators, so they get no glory in their community. New Zealand did the same for the white extremist who murdered muslims some time back.

    I agree completely with the sentiments of the blog, but not sure it can work in a church where 70% of members voted for a racist/white supremacist, and are happy to explain that he isn’t racist, because he says he isn’t.
    On millenial star they have a series of articles saying the insurection was attended by a BLM agitator from Utah, and to various degrees he instigated the damage.

    I am not sure how many members in Australia are racist, but a number are still talking about the stolen election on facebook, but American members vote for Trump if you weren’t?

  6. Aussie Mormon says:

    “Church leaders have recognized that Black Lives Matter…”

    I’d be making the L and M lower case like President Oaks did.

    “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.” 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.”

    “Black Lives Matter” is an organisation with a trademarked logo, web store, fundraising, and local chapters.
    “Black lives matter” is a thought process (or truth as President Oaks said) that everyone should be operating under.
    It doesn’t change the fact that “Black Lives Matter is a hate group” is an inappropriate statement (as per your list of examples), but if we’re going to use statements by church leaders to attempt to counter racism, we should be accurate with our statements.

    Other than that it seems like a pretty uncontroversial lesson plan. Though I haven’t had any face-to-face interaction with any USA wards since 2018, so I’ll assign judgement on that aspect to USAians.

  7. If you read this lesson and came away with the idea that it’s only for Americans, you’re part of the problem. Australia has every bit as much anti-Indigenous and anti-immigrant racism as the U.S., from the genocidal history to the present-day harsh border measures to the toxic rhetoric. Only a giant hypocrite could read this and praise Australia as a shining example of racial justice.

  8. Geoff-Aus says:

    C. Keen, Totally agree

  9. You had me until you got to the BLM part, then I realized, BCC is part of the problem!

  10. Geoff-Aus, a BLM agitator from Utah did attend the rampage in Washington. I read the interview done with him. I do not think he was in any way the driving force behind what happened. By the time I finished reading the interview all I could think was, was this man educated in Utah schools? If so, we have done a terrible job. He seemed to believe participating in the melee was like being in a movie. The interviewer was quick to point out that although the man insisted he had not encouraged or participated in violence, his voice could be clearly heard on the videos doing exactly that. He had already been arrested in Provo, Utah for activities related to violence.
    As for the OP, excellent job. I think these are all places to start conversations.

  11. Aussie Mormon says:

    C/Geoff:
    Nowhere did I praise Australia. I never mentioned that it was an USA only problem or that Australia did not have similar problems.

    This article was written by an American, with many American specific references scattered through it, and it appears to be generally aimed at an American audience.
    Yes it could easily by adapted to Australia, but my comment wouldn’t change that much.

    It still seems like a fairly uncontroversial lesson plan (apart from the one point I mentioned) and I believe it would generally be accepted fine by those members I regularly interact with.

  12. Kristine N says:

    There’s an Australia-specific example that could be added to the “inappropriate statement: All disparagement of low-income people.”

    I hear white people frequently complain about the extra benefits given to Aboriginals/Torres Strait islanders. I’ve heard some of them say they should claim to be Aboriginal in order to access benefits or scholarships or other opportunities earmarked for Aboriginals.

    I’m sure there are region-specific examples that could be brainstormed by everyone.

  13. Kristine: there are variations on that same theme with Native Americans in the US. The gist is that they lie about their heritage or fake some percent of genealogy to get certain social welfare benefits. I’ll see if I can come up with a good addition.

    The same general theme is also applied to individuals with disabilities (I.e. they’re faking it / don’t deserve it.)

  14. This is excellent in that it addresses the topic well in a way that sounds mainstream and could really happen. That’s constructive in the best way. The one exception I note, and as mentioned by others, is references to Black Lives Matter. I of course want even more (see next paragraph) but for this kind of lesson I would bracket it as a hot topic.

    I would like a second lesson that takes up BLM directly as part of a discussion about systemic racism and other systemic -isms. Systemic problems are hard. Difficult for some to see. Not agreed as to what we should do or even whether we should. Most of the modern-day quotable lines seem to avoid systemic issues and focus on disparagement -isms. I think the Book of Mormon is an important source for talking about systemic problems, but that requires a closer reading than we’re accustomed to. I would address the apology question in this lesson, i.e., the fact that the Church practiced systemic racism for a century. We have disavowed the explanations. Arguably that addresses the several kinds of disparagement that occurred. We have not disavowed the past practice, the systemic part.

    Finally, your earlier headline promised or at least hinted at something on nationalism. I’m looking forward to it.

  15. Aussie Mormon says:

    Carolyn: “The same general theme is also applied to individuals with disabilities (I.e. they’re faking it / don’t deserve it.)”

    Yep, that’s one I hear (though more so in the community than at church). My thoughts are if they can convince Centrelink (our government welfare agency) to actually give them disability support, then they deserve it. The amount of hassle I’ve seen people with visibly obvious, seriously impacting, incurable, physical disabilities go through to try and prove that they are disabled and it ain’t changing is incredible.

    Kristine: “There’s an Australia-specific example that could be added to the “inappropriate statement: All disparagement of low-income people.””

    Definitely a problem.

  16. Billy Possum says:

    Thank you, Carolyn. This is perfect for this moment (I just hope it’s not too late).

    One clarification, on your bullet about public benefits for middle-class white people: There’s an understood (but not printed) emphasis on the word “because,” since what’s inappropriate is suggesting that *only* those who will eventually have high incomes deserve public help. Critically, it is *not* inappropriate for middle-class white people to use public benefits, as long as they qualify. It’s only inappropriate when they think they’re *more* entitled to the benefits than others. I know that’s what you mean, but I misread it the first time and wanted you to know.

  17. This would cause a huge firestorm in my current stake. Many of us believe that BLM is a hate group on par with the KKK.

  18. Mentioning BLM directly could be an issue in a lot of stakes. My millennial daughter on the east coast pointed out that they are perceived as anti-family, anti-religion. She read me some of this purportedly from their mission statement which supposedly was removed from their website after some pushback. I didn’t mean to turn this into a debate about BLM but if I’m confused about their mission statement and goals, probably a lot of average church members are too.

  19. I’ll just say that like any lesson plan, a teacher could just delete that BLM question. There’s a bit more material here than you can realistically cover in an hour.

    That being said, I expect in many congregations even if the question is ignored, SOMEONE is going to affirmatively say something negative about Black Lives Matter during the discussion to prove a point, and the teacher will need to have a ready response.

  20. Bbell, it’s hard to take your comment other than as an admission of your unthinking racism. Seriously, black people protesting to not be harassed and killed by the police is the equivalent of white people terrorizing black people by any means possible to keep them controlled? Seriously?

  21. I was in a FB group where someone brought up the apparent UT BLM member at the capitol. Someone recognized him and said that the UT BLM group has repeatedly asked him to stop coming to rallies and events and basically banned him because he is just someone who wants to cause destruction no matter the reason.

  22. Has the church made a statement re: the insurrection that occurred on the 6th? I’ve looked, but have not found anything. (Asking here because the events of the 6th seem to certainly have some issues re: race mingled in.)

  23. They have not — expect one PR person referred the press to Elder Oaks’ October conference talk.

  24. AJ
    No statement on the unrest, but in case the world was wondering, they ARE renovating the plaza outside the Church Office Building!
    It’s nice to know that in a world of chaos, the church will maintain excellent landscaping. Can’t have the second coming with second-rate decor!
    https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/

    Honestly, I only became truly upset at their lack of statement when I realized this was the headline piece on the website.

  25. I think that an underlying issue still exists to all of this lesson plan.
    We are disavowing previous prophets, seers and revelators comments not just as obsolete, but as a complete contrary to current thinking in church leadership. Whilst I agree with the need for such lessons, I feel that a problem with leader confidence would inevitably arise from it.

  26. Billy Possum says:

    Errol: Good! There is a problem with “leader confidence,” and it’s past time for everyone in the Church (not just progressives) to realize and address it. If racism is the gadfly that wakes everyone up, so much the better.

  27. Billy Possom – I agree! It would just be an inevitability of something to be prepared for that would come out of such a lesson.

  28. Aussie Mormon: My apologies, it wasn’t your comment I was responding to.

  29. Aussie Mormon says:

    No worries. Apology accepted.

  30. Alissa Zapata says:

    I’m interested!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.