PROVO, Utah — During a weekly devotional at Brigham Young University Tuesday morning, a high-ranking leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addressed topics that may be causing anxiety among BYU students and others across the world.
President Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the church's First Presidency, spoke on the struggle that some people face with anxiety in general, as well the COVID-19 pandemic and the struggles brought about by it. The devotional was given before a masked and very socially-distanced audience at the school's Marriott Center basketball arena.
Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
It was also broadcast on TV and streamed online.
Oaks' comments on COVID-19 included urging listeners to "do your part in what is required in these unusual circumstances," and added that the restrictions and guidelines, including mask wearing, are both for each person's individual protection as well as those around them.
But his main focus was racism. Oaks embraced the phrase "Black lives matter" while also speaking out against recent "attempts to erase prominent figures from our history."
Oaks condemned racism, talked about examples of racial minorities being treated unfairly in the United States and across the world throughout history, and he even spoke on some examples in ancient scripture and whether they are racist in their full context.
Perhaps the most significant declaration, which garnered many positive reactions on social media, was the leader expressing some solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Of course, Black lives matter! That is an eternal truth all reasonable people should support," Oaks said, addressing the recent increase in protests against police brutality and racial inequality stemming largely from George Floyd's death in May.
However, he clarified that some things that many protesters have also called for in the process are not such "eternal truths."
"Unfortunately, that persuasive banner was sometimes used or understood to stand for other things that do not command universal support. Examples include abolishing the police or seriously reducing their effectiveness or changing our constitutional government. All these are appropriate subjects for advocacy, but not under what we hope to be the universally acceptable message: Black lives matter," Oaks said.
Still, he continued to denounce racism, saying that nobody should "think or behave as if God created them as first-class children and others as second-class children," adding that such an attitude is what racism leads people to believe and practice. He also praised President Russell M. Nelson for his "powerful doctrinal condemnation of racism and prejudice" at the most recent General Conference.
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Oaks also addressed the increasingly common practice of removing statues of and changing names of buildings named for leaders who owned slaves or were otherwise "associated with slavery" — including some calls to do so for Brigham Young and the university named after him. Young was the Latter-day Saints' second president/prophet, and he "spoke in favor of legalizing and regulating slavery," according to the church's website. He has also long been criticized for not allowing men of color to receive the priesthood, which was finally allowed in 1978.
While Oaks said he deliberated on the issue, he ultimately said he "cannot condone our now erasing all mention and honor of prominent leaders ... because they lived at a time with legal approvals and traditions that condoned slavery."