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Editor’s Note: The following paragraphs are excerpted from the Church Newsroom for context.
The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reminded those assembled for the 110th annual national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Sunday in Detroit that differences need not undermine society’s shared humanity.
“We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us,” President Russell M. Nelson said during a nine-minute evening speech. “We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other. If we have any hope of reclaiming the goodwill and sense of humanity for which we yearn, it must begin with each of us, one person at a time.”
Over the past 18 months, the First Presidency has made its partnership with the NAACP a high priority. The groups have met several times to pursue joint education efforts in Chicago and San Francisco and employment initiatives in Houston and Charlotte. They have customized the Church’s self-reliance services materials and programs to be most effective for the initiative. The two organizations also came together on Temple Square last May to call all people, organizations and governments to work together to achieve greater civility and racial harmony. Last July, Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy spoke at the NAACP’s 109th annual convention in San Antonio, Texas.
Read the full text of President Nelson’s brief, but powerful address below:
My dear friends, I am humbled by the invitation to be with you. For more than a century, the NAACP has been devoted to improving lives and elevating society. You have done much to protect and lift countless individuals. Your lofty ideals are indeed inspiring!
Last year, leaders of the NAACP—led by Chairman Leon Russell and members of the national board—came to Salt Lake City. My two counselors and I—the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—had the privilege of meeting with them. Our time together was marked by a feeling of mutual respect and a desire to link arms to see if we could capitalize on our respective strengths and help more people by working together.
At a press conference following that meeting, I explained that a fundamental doctrine and heartfelt conviction of our religion is that all people are God’s children. We truly believe that we are brothers and sisters—all part of the same divine family.
At that same press conference, President Derrick Johnson and I issued a joint invitation for all people, organizations, and governmental units to work with greater civility, to eliminate prejudice of all kinds, and focus on important interests that we have in common.
Simply stated, we strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation.
As recorded in the Book of Mormon, which we esteem as a scriptural companion to the Holy Bible, the Savior invites “all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he [denies] none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God” (see 2 Nephi 26:33).
May I repeat that last phrase: “All are alike unto God.” You who are gathered here in this room strive to make this heavenly truth an earthly reality. I commend you for it. And yet we all realize that, as a society and as a country, we have not yet achieved the harmony and mutual respect that would allow every man and woman and every boy and girl to become the very best version of themselves.
The cure for what ails us was prescribed by the Master Healer, Jesus the Christ. When a taunting Pharisee challenged Him to identify the greatest commandment in the law, the Savior’s response was most memorable and brief. It was filled with truth that leads to a joyful life. His instruction was first to love God with all our hearts and, then, to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:35–39).
Your president, Derrick Johnson, recently demonstrated the second great commandment. While receiving a public service award on behalf of the NAACP presented by Brigham Young University’s Management Society, President Johnson acknowledged that he had been asked why he would accept an award from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His response? “Because that’s our neighbor.”
That was a profound response.
We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us. We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other. If we have any hope of reclaiming the goodwill and sense of humanity for which we yearn, it must begin with each of us, one person at a time.
I have watched the influence of just such a person in my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. The Reverend France Davis, pastor of the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church for 45 years, has devoted his life to the ministry. Active in the civil rights movement, he participated in the march on Washington, D.C., in 1963, and the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. His quiet dignity and tireless advocacy for unity have greatly enriched the fabric of our community.
Many years ago, I had the privilege of hosting Reverend Davis at a performance of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Now, we are quite proud of the Tabernacle Choir, which has been recognized literally the world over. When the concert ended, I asked Reverend Davis what he thought of the program. “It was very good,” he said graciously, “but it was lacking in spirit. If you want to experience spirit in music, you should come to my church.”
So my wife and I did just that. And he was right. The energy in the Calvary Baptist Church choir was something to behold. While our taste in music might differ, I must say that he and his church have enhanced our city in a tangible way.
True community begins with just such relationships; with loving our neighbor; with honoring and serving each other. This is the spirit behind the cooperation shared by the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As you may know, the relationship between these two entities did not begin with meetings last year in Salt Lake City. A year earlier, Derrick Johnson met with my ecclesiastical colleague, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They were in Jackson, Mississippi, visiting the home of the martyred civil rights hero Medgar Evers. Medgar Evers is a true patriot. He died in the cause of freedom.
President Johnson and Elder Holland stood and spoke together in the NAACP office, housed in the building where Evers once worked as an NAACP field officer. After that initial visit in Mississippi, a plan took shape to refurbish the Medgar Evers office in order to preserve further his important legacy.
Soon, local members of the NAACP were working with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to redo walls, lay new carpet, and make other enhancements.
In 1963, after Medgar Evers’s death, mourners eulogized him with these words from 1 John 4:20: “If a man boasts of loving God, while he hates his own brother, he is a liar. He has seen his brother, and has no love for him; what love can he have for the God he has never seen?”
The first great commandment—to love our God—is inexorably yoked to the second great commandment, to love our neighbor. Together, we can extend this love to all God’s children—our fellow brothers and sisters.
As President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I pray that we may increasingly call each other dear friends. May we go forward doing our best to exemplify the two great commandments—to love God and love each of His children. Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can. This world will never be the same. My dear friends, I thank you.