Amid escalating outrage over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police and days of sometimes-violent protests across the country, Utah’s faith leaders — including LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson — are speaking out about racism in sermons, speeches and social media statements.
“We join with many throughout this nation and around the world who are deeply saddened at recent evidences of racism and a blatant disregard for human life,” the 95-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wrote Monday on Facebook. “We abhor the reality that some would deny others respect and the most basic of freedoms because of the color of his or her skin.”
The Almighty “calls on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children,” he added. “Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent.”
At the same time, Nelson said, church officials “are also saddened when these assaults on human dignity lead to escalating violence and unrest.”
Nelson, who met in 2018 with top NAACP officers and spoke last year at the civil rights group’s national convention, decried looting, defacing and destroying property. “Never has one wrong been corrected by a second wrong,” he said. “Evil has never been resolved by more evil."
Recent episodes “of barefaced racism…[have] lit an intense flame across the country,” the Rev. Oscar T. Moses, new pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City wrote on the church’s website. “ … While it is within our responsibility as Christians to respond to injustice everywhere, the manner in which we respond is crucial.”
Moses, a police-officer-turned-pastor who is in the process of moving to the Beehive State from Chicago, urged his mostly black congregants “to measure our concentrated response to these tragic events peacefully.”
Saturday’s protest in downtown Salt Lake City took place two blocks from First United Methodist Church.
“I am grateful that the church building was unharmed and that there was no loss of life during these events,” the Rev. Elizabeth McVicker wrote in an email. “While I do not condone the destruction of property and attacks on police officers, the recurrent problem of racism against minorities, particularly African Americans, within the American justice system must be addressed. We as a society must deeply examine and remove the long-standing biases which have led to the trajectory of prejudice, mistreatment and lack of educational and economic opportunity for people of color.”
Bishop Scott Hayashi of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah added his voice to the chorus of those denouncing racism.
The brutal killing of George Floyd “was not an isolated incident,” Hayashi said. “In February, Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Georgia. In March, Breonna Taylor was killed in Kentucky. During the last three years, racism has become more pronounced and utilized as a tool for political gain.”
The Salt Lake City demonstrations, like others around the nation, were “an expression of people who had reached the boiling point with the state of our nation.”
The bishop does not condone violence, he said, but he believes “protest is important when time and time again all that is offered for these incidents are thoughts and prayers.”
Recent police actions undermine the argument that racist responses are rare, taken by “a few bad apples,” says Imam Shuaib Din of Utah Islamic Center in Sandy. “Systemic bigotry and racism exist across the country. We need full-scale reform of our law enforcement agencies, so we don’t ever have something like this happen again.
Standing Together, an alliance of nearly 100 evangelical congregations and ministries across the Wasatch Front, condemned — “in the strongest terms possible” — Floyd’s death.
“As a nation, we must enter into an empathetic and deeply honest, convicted and civil conversation on racism in America with the intensity to eradicate to the greatest degree possible the evidence and actions of racist behaviors against any and all minority communities,” said the Rev. Greg Johnson, president of the coalition. “In concert with my personal friend and dear ministry partner, Pastor Corey J. Hodges of The Point Church in Kearns, I am calling for the people of Utah to … live [their] lives in such a way that what we say we condemn in private conversations is lived out in our public actions. … Continued violence and outward destruction of community property must cease, but the voices of those who hurt and suffer because of the evil of racism must not be quieted or disregarded.”
Friday was the day Jews celebrated receiving the Ten Commandments.
“In the Torah, it teaches that everyone was created in the image and likeness of God,” said Rabbi Samuel Spector of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami. “What we learn is that the fulfillment of one commandment leads to the fulfillment of another. Likewise, one transgression leads to another. The officer who murdered George Floyd did not see holiness in him, as a result, he committed not only murder but denied the existence of God in doing so.”
When a system fails to see “the godliness that people of color also possess,” Spector said, “we’re seeing a desecration of God’s name.”
Thus, the rabbi said, “we have an obligation to speak out and not be silent.”