Jordan Gibby: Church leaders have been warning us about racism. Are we listening?

(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.

Fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have been warned by prophets and apostles with increased frequency and intensity about the reality of racism. Are we listening?

Eleven of the 15 current members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have made public statements specifically on race and racism, with two more having made more general statements on oppression and multi-cultural unity. Collectively, these statements have been made in six of the last seven General Conferences, as well as in other public settings.

Perhaps we’ve noticed prophetic warnings against racism and thought, “Well, of course we don’t believe in racism, but, gratefully, that’s not a problem I deal with.”

If racism were not among us as church members, why the repeated warnings against it in our General Conferences? Who are our church leaders warning if not us?

President Dallin H. Oaks made it clear that the responsibility to repent of racism rests within each of us when he said, “Racism is probably the most familiar source of prejudice today, and we are all called to repent of that. … As servants of God who have the knowledge and responsibilities of His great plan of salvation, we should hasten to prepare our attitudes and our actions—institutionally and personally—to put all personal prejudices behind us.”

To assume that the repeated warnings from church leaders are just for “a few bad apples” is an attitude of pride and robs us of the growth that can come through more honest self-evaluation. Humility requires that we search ourselves for racial biases, admit to these biases, work to see them more clearly, and strive to correct them.

The humility required for self-evaluation and growth at an individual level is also necessary in evaluating the ways in which our institutions, systems, and nation contribute to racial oppression. Assuming that racism is not embedded within our systems is, again, inconsistent with the warnings of church leaders.

President Russell M. Nelson, in his recent commentary with the NAACP, said, “We likewise call on government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.”

Would Nelson call for the rooting out of racism from our institutions if not for the existence of racism among them?

Admitting these types of weaknesses within a nation or organization we revere can be challenging, so, rather than facing these weaknesses, we often become defensive. Sitting with imperfection is uncomfortable, but imperfection is reality.

The United States can have many good, even divinely inspired qualities while also having racism which needs rooting out. The same is true of the church.

Our belief that the church is guided by revelation does not mean that the membership, policies or practices of the church are without imperfection. Despite a growing partnership with the NAACP, a representative of the NAACP recently pointed out some of the church’s weaknesses around race relations, calling on the church to do more.

Rather than becoming defensive, shouldn’t we see this as a tremendous opportunity to be taught by an organization with such a rich history of working against racial issues?

While it can be heart-wrenching to admit that we have made racist mistakes, isn’t that the repentance we desire as followers of Christ?

We have been taught that repentance is “a joyful choice.” It takes faith, but admitting to and repenting of our racial biases, thoughts, and actions – both individually and in our institutions – is worth the effort.

Jordan Gibby

Jordan Gibby is a graduate student at Brigham Young University studying marriage and family therapy.