Russell M. Nelson, 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was awarded the inaugural Gandhi-King-Mandela Peace Prize by Morehouse College, a historically Black school in Atlanta, in a lively ecumenical service Thursday evening.
The 98-year-old Nelson, who leads the 17 million-member faith, carries “the light of truth…which recognizes the universal Christ and works for universal justice,” said the Rev. Lawrence Carter, founding dean of the college’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, to a packed audience of 2,500.
Nelson has continued the legacy of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, who, as a presidential candidate, advocated for “the freedom of enslaved Africans,” Carter said in a video, and affirmed “racial and ethnic equality … on a political platform of compensation emancipation.”
The heart-surgeon–turned-religious-leader has “worked tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than create walls of segregation,” Carter added. “You have led your great church to link arms with the … NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, Morehouse College and Spelman College, to help more people enjoy the light of participatory democracy.”
Nelson has “inspired your church to radical inclusivity and solidarity by taking a stand for the rights of women and children and to preserve the intellectual, personal, social and religious freedoms and protection of all humankind,” Carter said. “You have championed the moral cosmopolitan worldview of the religion of Jesus that is a hallowed blueprint for neighbors.”
In his own video response, the Latter-day Saint prophet-president said he was “deeply honored” to receive this prize by this “esteemed institution.”
God cares for all his children, Nelson said. “Differences in nationality, color, culture do not change the fact that we’re truly sons and daughters of God. And as a follower and witness of Jesus Christ, I have only come to understand that divine truth more deeply.”
The Latter-day Saint leader repeated words he has said before that “racism, sexism and a host of other isms are universally and tragically limiting in the way we regard and treat each other. Any abuse or prejudice toward another because of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, culture or any other identifiers is offensive to our maker, and defies the first and second great commandments, that we should love God with our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.”
God does not “love one race more than another,” Nelson said. His feelings of inclusion are very clear.”
Quoting from the Utah-based faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, he said the Savior “invites all to come unto him, and partake of his goodness. He denies none that come unto him. Black and white, bond and free, male and female, all are like unto God.”
He urged his listeners to “link arms in love and brotherhood.”
At the event, a Christian, Muslim and Buddhist offered separate prayers, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sang the resounding Latter-day Saint hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints” and “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” via video and 18 scholars — whose studies were funded by the LDS Church at Morehouse and Spelman colleges — were recognized.
As part of the day’s festivities, general authority Seventy Jack N. Gerard and Tabernacle Choir President Mike Leavitt, a former Utah governor, were inducted as scholars into Morehouse’s College of Ministers and Laity.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Ira Helfand, past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, who addressed “the growing danger” of such a conflagration.
The evening concluded with the Morehouse and Spelman glee clubs performing “We Shall Overcome” and the presentation of portraits of Nelson and others to hang in the chapel’s Hall of Honor.