SALT LAKE CITY — The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denounced racism and the violence occurring at protests around the country in the faith's first public statement Monday since volatile weekend demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.
Russell M. Nelson said in a post to his social media accounts that the Utah-based religion joined with people around the world being “deeply saddened at recent evidences of racism and a blatant disregard for human life."
“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," wrote Nelson. “We are also saddened when these assaults on human dignity lead to escalating violence and unrest.”
He added: “Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent!”
Nelson went on to say that “illegal acts such as looting, defacing, or destroying public or private property cannot be tolerated. Never has one wrong been corrected by a second wrong. Evil has never been resolved by more evil.”
In Salt Lake City, protesters flipped over and burned a police car and damaged buildings Saturday. More than 40 people were arrested.
Floyd, a black man, died last Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing. His death has prompted protests across the U.S. and Europe.
The faith, widely known as the Mormon church, has been trying to improve race relations in recent decades, including calling out white supremacy and launching a new formal alliance with the NAACP, but some black church members and scholars say discriminatory opinions linger in some congregations.
The faith banned black men from being in the religion's lay priesthood until 1978 in a prohibition that was rooted in a belief that black skin was a curse. In a 2013 essay, the church disavowed the reasons behind the ban and condemned all racism, saying the prohibition came during an era of great racial divide that influenced early church teachings. Blacks were always allowed to be members, but the nearly century-long ban kept them from participating in many important rituals.
Accusations of racism against the church had reached a peak in the 1960s, as civil rights activists targeted church-owned Brigham Young University with demonstrations and boycotts.
The Utah-based religion doesn’t provide ethnic or racial breakdowns of its members, but scholars say blacks make up a small portion of the 16-million member global faith.
“We need to foster a fundamental respect for the human dignity of every human soul, regardless of their color, creed, or cause,” Nelson wrote. “And we need to work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation. I plead with us to work together for peace, for mutual respect, and for an outpouring of love for all of God’s children.”
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