“No More Strangers”

Racism is an offense against God and a tool in the devil’s hands.

The promises and challenges of a new millennium remind us of the continuing urgency for the human family to accept and live the Apostle Paul’s prescient pronouncement that all men and women everywhere are God’s beloved children. To the Athenians, Paul said God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). Nephi expressed the same vision: Christ “inviteth [the children of men] to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God” (2 Ne. 26:33). In modern times, the First Presidency declared, “Our message … is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are the sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father” (First Presidency statement, 15 Feb. 1978).

Perhaps no clearer expositions have ever been given of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. Sadly, however, deep divisions of race, ethnicity, politics, economic status, and culture still separate people the world over. These divisions corrode, corrupt, and destroy relationships between neighbors and prevent the establishment of societies where there is “no contention in the land, because of the love of God which [dwells] in the hearts of the people” (4 Ne. 1:15).

Unfortunately, racism—the abhorrent and morally destructive theory that claims superiority of one person over another by reason of race, color, ethnicity, or cultural background—remains one of the abiding sins of societies the world over. The cause of much of the strife and conflict in the world, racism is an offense against God and a tool in the devil’s hands. In common with other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regret the actions and statements of individuals who have been insensitive to the pain suffered by the victims of racism and ask God’s forgiveness for those guilty of this grievous sin. The sin of racism will be eliminated only when every human being treats all others with the dignity and respect each deserves as a beloved child of our Heavenly Father.

How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations. President Spencer W. Kimball stated the Church’s position well: “We do wish that there would be no racial prejudice. … Racial prejudice is of the devil. … There is no place for it in the gospel of Jesus Christ” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 236–37). The Prophet Joseph Smith, who experienced more than his share of intolerance and prejudice, understood the importance of caring for, respecting, and helping others, even those we don’t agree with. Speaking of the need to provide temporal assistance to others, the Prophet explained that a member of the Church “is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he finds them” (Times and Seasons, 15 Mar. 1842, 732).

As people of every religious, political, racial, and economic persuasion build upon what they have in common and work together in their local setting for the good of all, wherever in the world they live, there is no end to what can be accomplished. An important component of such success is the fact that local people apply largely local resources to solve local problems.

It takes great courage to put away old hatreds, divisions, and tribal traditions which constrict and confine people into blind continuance of destructive behaviors toward others. Jesus, who knew perfectly the corrosive effects of such behavior, gave us a higher law when He said:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for those which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:43–45).

That commandment—to be generous with those who oppose us, to love those who hate us—is one of the most demanding requirements of Christian discipleship. It flies in the face of the natural man, who demands blood, revenge, retribution; whose memory of wrongs, real or imagined, recent or ancient, never dims; who sees compassion as weakness and holds forgiveness in contempt. But hard though the commandment is, Jesus still requires such generosity of spirit as part of our service to Him.

With Christ there are none of the false divisions which tear people apart and set them at each other’s throats. His is the way of peace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. His love extends beyond outward differences to the heart.

“A new commandment I give unto you,” He said, “that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34–35).

As we begin the first century of a new millennium, what are the characteristics we must strive to develop and strengthen in the hearts of the billions of God’s children who dwell in the myriad of communities around the world? We cannot discuss the needs and aspirations of individuals without also considering the communities in which they live. Many communities have tended to be remarkably homogeneous in terms of ethnicity and cultural background, reflecting the history, traditions, and culture of the nation or region in which they are found. But our world is becoming increasingly interconnected, with inexorable integration of financial capital, information, and technology. A global market, and to some degree a global village, is emerging. The homogeneity of the past is likely to be a decreasingly significant characteristic of the vast majority of communities of the future.

For example, it is reliably estimated that some time around the year 2050, the so-called racial minorities in the United States of America, taken together, will surpass in numbers the Anglo majority. The reality is that the children and grandchildren of today’s Americans will live in a society where everyone is a member of a minority group! This will have dramatic effects not only on the nature and extent of diversity and intergroup relationships, but also on national identity.

Church members now live in nearly every country of the world. During the new century, Church communities around the world increasingly will reflect the diversity of the nation in which they are located. Taken as a whole, the Church worldwide will become more diverse in terms of the national, racial, cultural, and linguistic characteristics of its members.

Diversity, by its very nature, implies differences. Communities which successfully address diversity recognize the need for discretion and wisdom in doing so. Not all differences are of equal value, and some differences can be destructive. Some which contribute significantly to the success of the community can be embraced by all. Other differences which don’t amount to much one way or the other can be viewed as neutral and can be accepted at least conditionally. Differences which harm the community or its members must peremptorily be rejected for the good of all. For example, Latter-day Saints, though they are “required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10), cannot accept and tolerate the gross evils that are so prevalent in societies today.

We hear often of the need for people to be tolerant of differences they observe in others. We agree insofar as tolerance implies genuine respect for another, but we disagree if tolerance connotes acceptance of sins which God Himself rejects. “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). Tolerance also does not imply a begrudging, mean-spirited, putting up with the other fellow just because we can’t demand and require him to change.

If we are to build and maintain strong and righteous individuals and caring communities in the future, we must break down the barriers which separate us from others and build bridges needed to create peace and harmony. This can occur only if we respect, understand, accept, and appreciate others for the admirable qualities they possess. As we respect the right of others to believe and worship as they wish, for example, and they reciprocate those commitments, we join together in respecting, understanding, accepting, and appreciating our differences and each other. People of different backgrounds, cultures, outlooks, capacities, and interests thus are bound together as a community based on common values where the inhabitants are “of one heart and one mind, and [dwell] in righteousness” (Moses 7:18).

Try as we may, we cannot separate ourselves from each other. Our common interests are too great, our mutual relationships too pervasive. The well-known lines of the English poet John Donne come to mind: “No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” (The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 4th ed. [1996], 253).

In the first of his letters to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul spoke of the Church and its members as though it were a human body with its various component parts (see 1 Cor. 12:12–27). He pointed out that for the proper functioning of the body, all parts must work together in a marvelous and miraculous harmony, though each has its unique function. Human communities must learn to operate in like manner, each member working independently yet in harmony with all others. To carry the analogy between the community and the human body a step further, when the body encounters a crisis, its component parts work together to overcome the problems. That united response to crisis is characteristic of successful, caring communities as well. The response of community members to a common crisis is instrumental in forging a strong and distinctive identity which, in turn, provides a commensurate sense of belonging.

What are the ties that bind a community together? Everyone would agree, I think, that our children must rank high on any list. In a very real way they are the community of the future. On a global basis they bear more than their share of trouble and travail. About 140 million children worldwide do not go to primary school, but labor often for long hours at home, in the fields, in sweatshops, or on the streets. Infectious diseases take the lives of millions of children in developing countries each year. Child abuse and neglect are prevalent evils in every nation. How inspired is the counsel from modern prophets that children have the right to parents who care for and love them, protect them from harm and evil, and raise them “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with … God” (Micah 6:8).

In caring communities, parents truly are concerned about the children in their midst—all children, not just their own. In this regard, the traditional greeting among the Masai—the great warriors of the eastern African grasslands—comes to mind: “How are the children?” to which the reply is, “All the children are well.”

A second great tie which binds community members together is that of care for the poor and needy. Members of caring communities offer charity and hope to each other in good times and bad, making certain that the most vulnerable members of society are given special care. In doing so they see others not as “strangers and foreigners” (Eph. 2:19) but as fellow citizens—beloved brothers and sisters.

Octavia Hill, the great 19th-century English social worker, got it right when she noted “everything we have to give seems to communicate itself to those we love and know” (quoted in The Befriending Leader: Social Assistance without Dependency [1997], 87). As Jesus’ life bears eloquent testimony, in the end it is love that breaks down the barriers between individuals and permits each to see the other as a whole person of intrinsic worth and value.

The dangers of judging others hastily and without love were brought home clearly to me several years ago. Our family was living in Switzerland, and we were looking forward to a short vacation in the south of France. Friends warned us to beware of thieves and pickpockets. Crime was prevalent, and, it was hinted darkly, most of the perpetrators were immigrants.

Somewhat apprehensively we began our journey and soon found ourselves admiring the beauties of the fruitful countryside and of the picturesque towns and villages. One afternoon as we were visiting a French village, we noticed ahead of us on the street a family of fellow tourists, laughing and joking together. As we watched their exuberant behavior, to our amazement, a bulging wallet fell unnoticed out of the pocket of one of the tourists.

We weren’t the only ones watching: a group of six youth—readily identifiable as immigrants—had also been observing from across the street. Like a pack of wolves after their prey, they converged on the wallet. I thought to myself What else can you expect? After all, they are a bunch of rascals.

One of the youth, holding the wallet high, ran toward the tourists, his fellows close behind him. “Excuse me, monsieur,” he said to the amazed tourist. “You lost your wallet; here it is.”

I hung my head in shame, chagrined at my too-eager willingness to prematurely judge others. The experience taught me an important lesson: we must look beyond the superficial stereotyping which influences too much of our thinking about the worth of those who seem on the surface to be different than we are. We must learn to look at others through the eyes of love, not as strangers and foreigners, but as individuals, fellow children of God, of one blood with us.

Love for others is perhaps best expressed through service to them. “By love serve one another,” the Apostle Paul noted (Gal. 5:13). Service strips from our souls the selfishness which saturates secular societies.

As community members work together unselfishly in a common cause, for the common good, they find that whatever their backgrounds, convictions, or experience, there is much more which unites them than which draws them apart. They come to understand that no group in society has a monopoly on goodness, wisdom, talent, knowledge, or energy. All are needed, all must act together as members of one body, with the common understanding that the true meaning and measure of life lies not in material possessions but in giving and caring. Only when we reach that point in our spiritual development can we truly look upon others as “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

Let’s Talk about It

Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:

  1. 1.

    How do stereotypes affect the way people treat each other? How can we move beyond those stereotypes?

  2. 2.

    What can we do to treat each other with respect, regardless of our race or background?

  3. 3.

    How can we reach out to others who may not feel accepted in the community?

[photos] Photography © Photodisc, Photospin, Corbes Digital Stock, Artville; electronic composition by Patric Gerber