At the end of a violent weekend in Charlottesville, Va., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a heartfelt reminder about the perils of intolerance.
“People of any faith, or of no faith at all, should be troubled by the increase of intolerance in both words and actions that we see everywhere,” the statement read. “Our prayers are with those who are suffering because of this intolerance and hatred.”
Some Mormons with white nationalist beliefs took that the wrong way.
One Mormon blogger with more than 30,000 followers on Twitter celebrated the church’s statement on social media, saying: “You cannot be anti white and a follower of Christ.”
On Tuesday, the church clarified its position. In a strongly worded update to its original statement, the church condemned white supremacy as “morally wrong and sinful.”
It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament, Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39). The Book of Mormon teaches “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a “white culture” or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.
An LDS representative reached Wednesday would not comment further on the reasoning behind the church’s update.
White supremacists and members of the alt-right gathered for a “Unite The Right” rally Saturday to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in downtown Charlottesville. They clashed with counter-protesters throughout the weekend, culminating in an attack by James Alex Fields, Jr., a 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer. Fields drove a car through the crowds, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. He has been charged with second-degree murder.
Mica McGriggs, a Mormon post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University Medical Center who has written about issues of race and privilege in her faith community, said the church’s statement on white supremacy is “long overdue.”
“Black members of the church as well as other members of color have waited and prayed for the day the church would take a stand against white supremacist bigotry, and in doing so the church has clearly aligned itself completely with the teachings of Christ,” McGriggs told HuffPost.
The Mormon church has had a complicated history with race. In 1852, several years after taking the helm of the church, Brigham Young announced that men of African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, which is an important milestone for male members of the church. Black men and women were banned from participating in other meaningful church practices until 1978.
Today, many black Mormons still experience racism and daily micro-aggressions in their faith communities. The church has tried to reconcile its racist legacy by publishing a series of essays and guides on its official website, but some Mormons have said it’s simply not enough.
Tuesday’s statement, McGriggs said, “is a critical first step in dismantling lingering racism that has historically been present in Mormonism.”