How the Gospel Directly Speaks to Overcoming Prejudice

 

In light of the church’s recent statement on the situation in Charlottesville, Virginia, I wanted to share a few thoughts on why prejudice is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

1. Our Identity as Children of God is More Important than Our Secular Identities

Valuing our shared identity as children of God is an important part of our existence. We believe that we all existed before we lived on earth and we all made the same choice: to come here to learn, to grow, and to return someday. Additionally, if we trace our lineages back far enough, we will find that we all share similar ancestors. Hence, even if someone is of another race, nationality, or faith, we are all connected. Although we may not know or remember our bonds, they are still there.

Furthermore, as important as it is to honor our modern family heritage, we should do so in a Christlike way. God certainly wants us to learn about the actions of our ancestors. However, it is pretty clear that we should not condone or celebrate anything contrary to gospel principles. Rejecting some of the choices of our ancestors does not mean we are distancing ourselves from them or disrespecting our family. Instead, it is simply an exercise in rejecting choices vs rejecting our family themselves. I imagine that our loved ones who have died – and know much more about the plan of salvation than we do now – would rejoice that we have the knowledge and ability to make some choices differently than they did. This could even help bring us closer to Christlike behavior.

2. Prejudice is Contrary to Gospel Principles

One of the most well-known stories in the New Testament is parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells a story about an injured Jewish man on the side of a road. A Jewish priest and Levite refuse to help the man, despite the fact they knew they were obligated to help him. Eventually, the man is rescued when a Samaritan chooses to help him.

One interesting component of this story is that based on historical precedent, we should have expected the priest or Levite to help the injured man, due to social norms. However, it was the Samaritan – even though Samaritans and Jews were bitter social enemies. Despite their cultural differences and history of antagonism, the Samaritan chose to help the Jewish man. He overcame bigotry and hatred to help a fellow child of God in need. He displayed how we should follow the two greatest commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” The Samaritan also helped demonstrate that it is not our secular identities that define whether we are good people, it is whether we follow the commandments.

3. One of the Main Take Away Messages of the Book of Mormon: Prejudice Destroys Societies

You cannot understand the Book of Mormon without reading the entire book. Someone could cherry pick verses out of the book, and make the case that the Book of Mormon advocates heavy drinking, adultery, or even racial superiority. However, if they read the entire book or took the entire quoted story into context, they would realize that the book advocates for the opposite.

The Book of Mormon starts out with one family traveling across the ocean together to reach the Americas. It ends with the descendants of that family destroying each other because of prejudice. The happiest time in the entire book is right after Christ came and ministered to the people. This was the only time when the Nephites and Lamanites rejected secular identities and histories, forgave each other, and treated each other equally. It is pretty clear that dividing themselves into different secular identities and elevating themselves over one another ended poorly for everyone in the Book of Mormon. Therefore, we find a book that not only doesn’t advocate for prejudice, but does the opposite. It advocates for unity.

4. How Can We Move Forward?

President Gordon B. Hinckley’s words in 2006 are even more applicable today. “Why do any of us have to be so mean and unkind to others? And why can’t all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us? Why is there so much bitterness and animosity? It is not a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Here are a few things that each of us should remember and be doing to be more Christlike with our fellow man.

1. Treat Others as Children of God Regardless of Differences:

The scriptures teach that we are all the same to God, “…And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” We should treat others with the same love and respect that we want to receive. We must look past the outward appearance and as Christ taught, “looketh on the heart.” We are here in this life with one another. Regardless of how we feel, violence and hatred is not going to make it any better for anyone. As Rodney King, a recipient of such violence, once pleaded, “Can we all get along?”

2. Have Empathy and Be Understanding:

Empathy is the natural outgrowth of charity. It stimulates and enhances our capacity to serve. Empathy is not sympathy but understanding and caring. It is the basis of true friendship. Empathy leads to respect and opens the door to teaching and learning. One way to develop empathy for others is to have understanding for that person. This does not mean that you have to agree or condone any actions or thoughts, but it does mean being respectful. We have the tendency to become defensive when someone suggests we might act in a manner that’s considered socially unacceptable. Instead of being defensive, have humility and listen. With understanding, we can strengthen relationships, revitalize neighborhoods, unify nations, and even bring peace to a troubled world. Without it chaos, intolerance, hate, and war are often the result.

3. Learn to Forgive:

Mormon and Moroni’s actions at the end of the Book of Mormon are a great example of how to forgive others despite horrible atrocities that are the direct result of prejudice. Mormon recognized that the Lamanites were guilty of prejudice, which led to war. He was humble enough to recognize that his own people were guilty of prejudice as well. Looking past secular identity, Mormon instead focused on what was important, such as whether people – of either nationality – were following gospel principles. He was able to see that everyone had made mistakes. If he did not, it may have led him to become prejudiced against the Lamanites as well.

It is also important to note that the Nephites were completely destroyed at the end of the Book of Mormon. So why would Moroni write down his family’s history and comply his family’s records if there was no one from his family to read them? Because he wanted to make sure the descendants of the Lamanites, the very people who had killed his people, were able to hear the gospel and learn about Jesus Christ. Despite everything Moroni went through, he saw the Lamanites as children of God and wanted to help them. This is a great example of Christlike behavior. Jesus also forgave the people who executed him and asked God to have mercy on them. As Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “This sinful old world so much needs men of strength, men of virtue, men of faith and righteousness, men willing to forgive and forget.”

4. Judge Less, Help More:

We sometimes have the tendency to want to elevate ourselves above others. This is not Christlike. Instead of judging others, find ways to help others. According to Carl B. Cook, “As we serve, we draw closer to God. We come to know Him in ways that we otherwise might not. Our faith in Him increases. Our problems are put into perspective. Life becomes more satisfying.” 

“The only time you should ever look down on someone is when you are helping them up.”

– Jesse Jackson

In sum, it is possible for us to achieve social harmony as the Nephites and Lamanites did after Jesus visited them. Prejudice is against gospel principles. Just because it is present around us doesn’t mean it should be an acceptable part of our lives. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us of the struggle of living in this dispensation. “As difficult as it is to live in the turmoil surrounding us, our Savior’s command to love one another as He loves us is probably our greatest challenge.” 

May we all try to see what God sees when he looks upon our neighbor. May we have more empathy and understanding for one another. Let us be quick to forgive, slow to judge and willing to serve more. As we do these things we will draw closer to Christ by doing His work.

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