In this Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, video image streamed by The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the opening of the 190th Semiannual General Conference at the Conference Center Theater on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The twice-annual conference kicked off Saturday without anyone attending in person and top leaders sitting some 6-feet apart inside an empty room as the faith takes precautions to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. A livestream of the conference showed a few of the faith’s top leaders sitting alone inside a small auditorium in Salt Lake City, Normally, top leaders sit side-by-side on stage with the religion’s well-known choir behind them and some 20,000 people watching. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints via AP)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ president issued another plea for members to help end racism, saying Sunday at the faith’s signature conference that God loves people of all races equally and that it pains him to see Black people suffer prejudice.
Russell M. Nelson’s comments followed similar speeches by other top leaders Saturday at the conference that comes as many members live through a reckoning over racial injustice, especially in the U.S. following the May police killing of Black man George Floyd.
“God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear,” Nelson said. “I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin.”
Members believe church presidents are living prophets who receive revelations from God.
Like the leaders who spoke on Saturday, Nelson didn’t mention the church’s past ban on Black men in the lay priesthood. The prohibition — which stood until 1978 — was rooted in the belief that black skin was a curse. It remains one of the most sensitive topics in the faith’s history.
The church disavowed the ban and the reasons behind it in a 2013 essay but has never issued a formal apology — a necessary step for some members.
The Utah-based religion known widely as the Mormon church doesn’t provide ethnic or racial breakdowns of its 16.6 million members — but scholars say Black followers make up a small portion of adherents. None of the 15 men who sit on the faith’s top leadership panels are Black. Church leadership did become more diverse in 2018 when it sent to the previously all-white Quorum of the Twelve Apostles its first-ever apostles of Latin American and Asian descent.
This weekend’s twice-yearly conference is the second one held this year without an audience.
Since becoming president in 2018, the 96-year-old Nelson has called for racial harmony and launched a formal partnership with the NAACP.
“I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice,” Nelson said.