Author: Alexis Bradley and Chante Stutznegger
Ways we can foster a more loving and inclusive culture in our church
As sisters growing up in Utah, our experience as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was unique. As black biracial kids in a predominantly white region, we often felt like outsiders wondering how we fit into Heavenly Father's eternal plan. Navigating the social and cultural setting of the Church was often confusing, and sometimes even hurtful.
Because of this, we have always had a strong desire to help create a more inclusive culture within the Church. We feel that there is a great need for more understanding of race, culture, and different lived experience. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of love, connection, empathy, understanding, and service.
As disciples of Christ, we have an individual duty to learn, and a sacred responsibility to teach our children that there is no place for racism in our hearts, churches, schools, and communities, even (and perhaps especially) if some of our communities don’t reflect a lot of diversity.
Elder Jeffery R. Holland, in his talk “A Perfect Brightness of Hope” (April 2020 general conference) expressed a yet unfulfilled desire: “May we hope...for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice.” This is what we are working towards––to exemplify the unconditional, inclusive love and acceptance of all people, races, and cultures that our Savior Jesus Christ epitomizes.
As we strive to become more like Jesus Christ, it is imperative that we eliminate any feelings of prejudice in our hearts and in our chapels as we do our part in fulfilling the Lord's work. We can start this process by recognizing and letting go of our personal biased beliefs, seeking to gain perspective from other’s lived experiences, and approaching kindness as an action.
Recognize and let go of biased beliefs
It can be difficult to recognize and acknowledge our own biases. The truth is, we all have biases and most of the time they are so ingrained in how we see the world we rarely stop to notice them. This becomes problematic because, as much as we don’t want to admit it, these beliefs will inevitably creep into our actions and interactions with others. How we treat those around us and speak about others is often our childrens’ most powerful teacher. Our personal biases can quickly become family and even generational biases if we do not actively seek to see all Heavenly Father’s children as He does.
Sometimes these thoughts and beliefs are subtle in nature, yet the impact of their existence can cause a divide by implying that a someone is less worthy or is an outsider in their own faith because of an identifying trait. People may not even realize that their comments or attitudes are based in prejudice. Attributing someone's skin color to a biblical curse, applying a stereotype to an individual, or making assumptions based on outward appearances (even when the intention isn't to harm) can feel belittling and painful to the recipient.
We can work through eliminating our prejudiced beliefs by acknowledging them, recognizing where they came from, and being honest with ourselves as to why we are still holding on to such beliefs. The process of unlearning negative beliefs and letting go of personal bias can be difficult and takes humility and sincere prayer.
Gain understanding from experiences other than our own
Our perspective is shaped by our life experience. In order to expand our perspective and embrace diversity we need to be willing to hear and learn from others’ lived experiences. We can’t assume that everyone has experienced Church culture the way we have. When we take the time and energy to get to know someone and learn their story it can wash away negative preconceived beliefs that we may have had. It is a beautiful and Christ-like process to seek to understand someone by learning about their heritage, history, and life experiences. Learning the stories of minority groups' and their culture, perspective, and ancestors can help us be more connected to each other in Christ's work.
One of the things we love about our culture in the Church is how we honor the stories of the Mormon pioneers, church leaders, and ancient prophets. There are more accounts that need to be heard and perspectives to be shared. Listening to the stories and experiences of others will open our hearts and give us the capacity to make our church a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
We were adults before we heard the story of Jane Manning James and her faith and conviction to the gospel despite the challenges she faced being a black member of the Church. Her story inspired us and made us committed to learn more stories and gain more understanding. We encourage you to read the histories of people like Jane Manning James, Elijah Able, Joseph Freeman Jr., and other minority pioneers. As you explore the diverse heritage of the early Saints, we hope it strengthens your testimony and helps you feel more connected to our global church family.
Kindness is an action
When it comes to embracing the beautiful diversity of our global church and all of our brothers and sisters in the gospel, we need to be willing to offer more than just a smile and a kind word. True kindness is about being anxiously engaged in learning about others and applying that knowledge to serving and connecting with them. This process is building His kingdom in a way that is welcoming and loving to all.
Kindness as an action can be speaking up, being aware and sensitive to each other's experiences and cultures, apologizing when we get it wrong, building trusting relationships, and learning the history within our church that affected our black brothers and sisters.
Our hope is that we can have a greater desire to work towards a better understanding of the diversity within our church.
Let’s invest in creating a more Christlike and inclusive culture where people with different racial backgrounds can feel like there is a place for them here in Christ’s church. We can each commit to do this sacred work within our own hearts and with our families.
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