‘We do not intend to be a flash in the pan’ — Mormon church, NAACP team up on education and employment initiative, expect to unveil more joint projects

(Courtesy LDS Church) The Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir (formerly Genesis Choir) of Salt Lake City participated in the national convention, July 15, 2018.

The May summit between top leaders of the LDS Church and the NAACP planted seeds of cooperation that are already bearing fruit.

On Sunday night, Mormon general authority Jack N. Gerard announced that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was teaming up with the nation’s oldest civil rights organization on a schooling and jobs push on the East Coast.

“I’m pleased to announce that we will together launch an education and employment initiative with an eye towards national impact beginning in cities like Baltimore, Atlanta and Camden, New Jersey,” Gerard said at the NAACP’s national convention in San Antonio. “We envision joint NAACP and LDS activities and projects all over this nation. We do not intend to be a flash in the pan; that is not our style, and we know it's not yours.”

Gerard is the first high-ranking LDS authority to speak at the group’s national gathering, according to a news release from the Utah-based faith.

Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced expanded collaboration between the NAACP and the church at the organization’s 109th annual national meetings held in San Antonio, Texas, Sunday evening, July 15, 2018.

“I am thrilled to be part of this annual convention whose wise purpose is to ‘establish policies and programs of action’ just as God would have us do,” he said. “For us, as also for many of you, ‘God is love,’ and loving God means loving and serving each other.”

Gerard’s appearance and the new joint undertaking build upon the landmark meeting that took place in Salt Lake City between LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson two months ago, when the two called on the world to eliminate “prejudice of all kinds” and to “demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony, and mutual respect.”

Nelson pledged then that the two groups would “explore ways" through education and humanitarian service to lift "our brothers and sisters who need our help.”

The latest initiative, the news release states, will attempt to do just that by offering courses — taught by Mormons, NAACP members and others — at houses of worship and community centers to help students find better jobs, enhance their incomes, manage their personal finances, and start and grow their own businesses.

This may be the first of many unified NAACP-LDS projects. Leon W. Russell, head of the civil rights group’s board, noted that the budding relationship between the two institutions is still developing.

“It’s not about theology; it’s not about philosophy,” he said in the release. “It’s about helping people.”

Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP board of directors, spoke at Sunday’s mass meeting and introduced LDS general authority Jack N. Gerard, July 15, 2018.

In addition to Gerard’s speech, the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir (formerly the Genesis Choir) of Salt Lake City performed three times at the NAACP sessions.

The emerging ties between the Mormon church and the NAACP reflect a monumental shift in attitudes. In the 1960s, the civil rights group protested Mormonism’s former racial ban — discarded in 1978 — which excluded men and boys from the religion’s all-male priesthood and women and girls from its temples.

“I was definitely one of those folks wondering why are we going to Utah,” Karen Boykins-Towns, vice chairwoman of the NAACP board, said in the church’s release. “Our [May] visit and our meeting [were] surprisingly impactful and groundbreaking. And despite our reservations, we left that historic meeting with a better understanding of each other’s history and the desire to acknowledge the past and move forward to work together for the common good.”

The Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir (formerly Genesis Choir) of Salt Lake City also participated in the national convention, July 15, 2018.