The relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP has evolved from “acquaintance to friend” and from “linking arms to locking arms,” a church apostle told a packed ballroom on the day set aside to honor civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
“This could not have happened without vision," said apostle Gary E. Stevenson, the keynote speaker Monday at the annual NAACP luncheon at Little America in downtown Salt Lake City, which attracted about 400 attendees.
He began by reviewing the two groups’ history, including his church’s involvement with the historic black activist organization.
In May 2018, LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and NAACP President Derrick Johnson issued a joint statement calling on the world to “demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony, and mutual respect” while eliminating “prejudice of all kinds.”
The pair agreed to work on joint projects, involving education, employability and self-reliance, Stevenson said.
Representatives of the two groups continued to meet, culminating last summer in Nelson being invited to address the national meeting of the NAACP in Detroit.
“We truly believe that we are brothers and sisters — all part of the same divine family," Nelson said at the convention. "We strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation."
Stevenson reiterated that commitment at Monday’s gathering, urging his listeners to “be your brother’s keeper, to foster civility (in actions, not just words), and to emulate Christlike love (which includes empathy and compassion).”
The Latter-day Saint apostle ended his remarks by pointing to a verse in the Utah-based church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, which describes the human family: “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”
The apostle acknowledged that the 2020 “Come, Follow Me” manual for use by everyone in the 16.3 million-member church for this year’s study of the Book of Mormon, “includes a paragraph with some outdated commentary on race.”
It was “mistakenly included in the printed version of the manual, which had been prepared for print nearly two years ago,” Stevenson said at the lunch. “When it was brought to the attention of church leaders late last year, they directed it be immediately removed in our annual online manual, which is used by the great majority of our members."
The church’s top officials also “have directed that any future printed manuals will reflect this change,” he said. “We are asking members to disregard the paragraph in the printed manual.”
Stevenson said he was “deeply saddened and hurt by this error, and for any pain that it may have caused our members or others.”
The church “condemn[s] all racism past and present in any form,” the apostle said, “and we disavow any theory that advances that black skin or dark skin is the sign of a curse.”
The annual lunch also honored Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, the state’s first female sheriff, as this year’s recipient of the Rosa Parks Award.
The award honors the courage of the woman who challenged racial segregation on buses in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch, said Rivera “exemplifies the vision to move forward with justice and peace.”
Her work in law enforcement and other areas, Williams said, “has made positive changes in our society and with our citizens.”
Rivera was overwhelmed and honored by the award, she said in her acceptance, especially given her admiration for Rosa Parks, who shares her first name.
“When I was 14 years old, I had my first experience with discrimination,” Rivera, who is Hispanic, said from the podium. “My father told me not to feel sorry for myself.”
If you don’t like it, the wise dad told his teenage daughter, change it.
“So I did,” she said.
Civil rights and social justice remain big issues, Rivera said. “We need to engage the younger generation. We can’t do it by ourselves.”