- The Washington Times
Monday, December 21, 2020

The nation’s largest Mormon denomination has announced new handbook sections that condemn misinformation and decry racism, addressing a thorny topic that has embroiled faiths across the U.S. this year.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it has added a section on prejudice to its General Handbook, a spiritual guide for the world’s 16 million LDS followers.

“[Prejudice] is not consistent with the revealed word of God,” the new section reads, in part.

The section is the latest, high-profile addition to the handbook, which has undergone a significant revision this year. It prohibits discrimination based on “race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief or nonbelief, and sexual orientation.”

The handbook language followed statements President Russell M. Nelson made in October urging the faithful to “abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group or individual.”

Another new section is titled “Seeking Information from Reliable Sources” and discourages reliance on media sources that are “speculative or founded on rumor.”

In a video posted to the LDS website announcing the updates, Anthony D. Perkins, a member of General Authority Seventy, a church body participating in handbook revisions, defended the section as rooted in Scripture.

“As new inspiration or revelation comes the handbook can be updated to meet the conditions of the children of God,” Mr. Perkins said.

LDS leaders, like those of other denominations, have faced calls to reckon with a racist past in the months since George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

Until 1978, the church did not allow Black lay priesthood, but Mormon leaders have undergone a public reconciliation campaign in recent years. In 2018, Mr. Nelson secured a partnership with the NAACP.

Joanna Brooks, author of “Mormonism and White Supremacy,” told The Washington Times the announcement reminded her of a Mormon hymn admonishing the faithful to not seek to correct the “motes” in others’ vision while there is a “beam” in their own eyes.

“We have so much work to do in our own community,” Ms. Brooks said. “I hope the church’s statement presses Mormons into deep self-reflection and to make reparations long overdue.”

Matthew Bowman, an endowed chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, said the new section on prejudice comes at a time of “increasingly visible diversity of church membership.”

According to Pew Forum, roughly 6% of LDS members are Black.

“The handbook, frankly, is not as important to members of the church as are the scriptures and public statements of the church’s leaders,” Mr. Bowman said. “However, it is important to local church leadership, particularly the leaders of congregations, so these statements may well trickle down to the general membership in that way.”

The Mormon faith is far from the only community to wrestle with race and religion.

In November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to continue its Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, chaired by Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Louisiana. The group was formed after white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

The group has produced a “prayer to overcome racism” and a document titled “Practical Steps for Eradicating Racism” that includes such tips, such as “Learn about structural racism and its roots in your community.”

Other faiths have faced more division over conversations about race.

Last week, Pastor Charlie Dates of Chicago’s Progressive Baptist Church became the second Southern Baptist Convention pastor this month to announce that his congregation is disaffiliating from the network, after six SBC seminary presidents issued a call condemning critical race theory, or the tenets of structural racism, as “incompatible” with SBC theology.

“How did they, who in 2020 still don’t have a single Black denominational entity head, reject once and for all a theory that helps to frame the real race problems we face?” Mr. Dates wrote in an opinion column for the Religion News Service.

Pastor Ralph D. West of The Church Without Walls in Houston earlier had announced disaffiliation from the SBC.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.