Holly Richardson: LDS manuals need to get racist rhetoric out of them

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, are greeted by NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson at the NAACP's 110th annual national convention in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019.

Please don’t teach racism. Don’t teach it at home, don’t teach it in seminary or institute and don’t teach it in Sunday School. Our Heavenly Parents are not racists. Of course they are not. They love all of their children equally and I am convinced they make zero distinctions based on skin color or place of birth. Neither should we.

Let’s just get this out of the way: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had leaders who were racist. Full stop. To their credit, modern church leaders have been much more proactive in making clear that all are welcome, with outreach worldwide, with specific talks and teachings focused on welcoming all, the new relationship with the NAACP and with the 2018 “Be One” celebration commemorating the 40th anniversary of the priesthood being restored for all worthy men.

It is therefore disheartening and more than a little disconcerting to discover refuted racist dogma in one of the current LDS Church’s manuals. OK. Maybe that’s underplaying it. It’s more like “What the FREAK?!” HOW is that even possible?!

Tamu Smith, half of the “Sistas in Zion” duo and co-author of the book “Can I Get An Amen?” tweeted about it earlier this week. She posted a picture out of the 2020 “Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families” manual where the question is asked “What is the ‘curse’ that came upon the Lamanites?” The answer, printed in that manual, says that the curse was dark skin.


Can we just stop right now and clear that up. No it is not.

In fact, the digital version of the same manual is different. It says that “Prophets affirm in our day that dark skin is not a sign of divine disfavor or cursing. The Church embraces Nephi’s teaching that the Lord ‘denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female.’ President Russell M. Nelson declared: “The Lord has stressed His essential doctrine of equal opportunity for His children. … Differences in culture, language, gender, race, and nationality fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our beloved Redeemer.” (emphasis added)

And yet, “something” slipped through, in a manual families are meant to teach from.

Here is some more false doctrine that sometimes gets perpetuated in LDS culture: If you were born white and in the United States, you were more righteous in the pre-existence. Gag. The hubris. Get off your Rameumpton Tower where you are thanking God that you are not like the lowly “others” that surround you.

Maybe it was just an “accident of geography” or maybe it was something else, but nowhere does LDS doctrine proclaim that righteousness in heaven equals white skin on earth. Having heard that very thing (more than once) in LDS congregations in Utah has lead to some pretty pointed conversations with my black and brown children about the differences between doctrine and culture.

How ironic that something like this has to be talked about on Martin Luther King weekend — and even worse, the lesson is scheduled to be given on the first Sunday of Black History month. Ouch.

Since the digital version of the manual is different, I am going to assume it was an “oversight” by copy editors who were in a hurry. Maybe they didn’t know. Now, I’m not sure they can miss it. And, now that they do know, I have a couple of suggestions.

First, remove all unsold stock from all distribution channels and either reprint or insert a correction into every single one. Second, use the church’s communication channels to apologize for the error and clarify the church’s position that all are alike unto God and that racism and holier-than-thou attitudes have no place in our churches, classrooms or homes.

Addressing the NAACP convention in July 2019, Nelson said: “We truly believe that we are brothers and sisters — all part of the same divine family. We strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation.”

Let’s make sure our manuals reflect that.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, active in her faith and the proud mom of a multi-national, multi-racial family.