Source: The Economist
EVEN AS American debates over race and identity turn increasingly toxic, one of the country’s most powerful religious groups and one of its most venerable anti-racist groups have taken a step in the opposite direction. The president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, still known widely as the Mormons even though they have renounced that name, received a warm welcome on July 21st in an unlikely setting: the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
“We strive to build bridges of co-operation rather than walls of segregation,” declared Russell Nelson, a lively 94-year-old, at the gathering in Detroit. Drawing polite applause, he quoted a line from the Mormon scriptures, affirming that Jesus Christ “denies none that come unto him: black and white, bond and free, male and female, all are alike unto God.”
To put it mildly, nothing about Mr Nelson’s appearance, or his choice of words, was routine or obvious. He and his church have, in several senses, travelled a long way. As the church’s own website spells out, the Latter-day Saints (LDS) have a bad history in matters of race. Only in 1978 did leaders of the church open the priesthood to black people, and admit black people to the supremely sacred religious rituals known as ordinances.