SALT LAKE CITY — NAACP President Derrick Johnson stood Sunday at a pulpit and asked a Latter-day Saint congregation in Salt Lake City to build a wall of love and inclusion.
"Our uniqueness is actually our genius," Johnson said. "And I believe the Lord truly wants us to bring all of our geniuses together behind a wall of love, so that we can truly experience his blessing. Thank you for this opportunity to worship with you today."
Johnson and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP will make an important announcement about joint initiatives on Monday, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said as he introduced Johnson and other NAACP leaders Sunday.
"These are our dear friends," Elder Rasband said, as he spoke during the sacrament meeting of the 14th Ward in the Salt Lake Stake, the home congregation for Elder Rasband and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They sat next to Johnson on the stand, and Elder Gong also spoke in the meeting.
The friendship is part of a now three-year partnership between the church and the landmark Black civil rights organization.
In May 2018, Johnson and President Russell M. Nelson issued a joint call for an end to prejudice and racism as they stood together in the Church Administration Building a few blocks from Sunday's meetinghouse. Since then, President Nelson has spoken at the NAACP convention and the church and the NAACP have partnered to provide self-reliance courses for disadvantaged inner-city Blacks.
Johnson said his message was inspired by biblical sermons his preacher taught annually when Johnson was young, about Nehemiah returning to destroyed Jerusalem and building a wall around it in only 52 days. Johnson said he fully recognized the meaning of the sermon when the preacher combined it with another frequent message about the two great commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor.
"Build a wall of inclusion," Johnson said. "Build a wall of love. Build a wall so that you are not distracted by the outside forces trying to pull people apart, but (instead are) included in the space of love that we are all intended to be in, holding true to the commandments to love the Lord with all our mind and our heart, and love thy neighbor."
"You can come and be a preacher here anytime you wish," Elder Rasband told Johnson as he stood before the congregation, after Johnson concluded his message.
Elder Rasband said he and Elder Gong were grateful to celebrate with members of the Black community "that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father."
Elder Rasband read from Book of Mormon scriptures about Jesus Christ inviting all to come unto him, including Black and white, and about the teaching that there should be no contention and that all should have "their hearts knit together in unity and love."
"We've experienced that sense and that feeling here this morning," Elder Rasband said. "You'll feel more of it through the next couple of days, as we have the privilege of working together to announce some wonderful new initiatives that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the NAACP and others will join together in accomplishing these goals that you've heard from the pulpit today."
President Nelson has called on Latter-day Saints and others repeatedly to "build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation." He went to the pulpit in an international general conference of the church in October 2020 and called on its 16.5 million members to abandon racism and prejudice.
In that same conference, his first counselor in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks, who previously had acknowledged the pain caused by the church's former restriction on priesthood and temple blessings for Blacks, called on members to "root out racism." Weeks later at Brigham Young University, he asked students to heed "President Nelson's powerful doctrinal condemnation of racism and prejudice."
Elder Rasband reemphasized those messages on Sunday.
"I know that (Jesus Christ) looks over the world and rejoices when people speak like Brother Johnson speaks of unity and putting down contention and trying our very best, as President Nelson and President Oaks have taught, to root out racism and prejudice.
"These are truly our initiatives and our goals and accepted teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Sister Tracy Browning, who is Black and a member of the church's Relief Society General Advisory Board, also spoke, saying the remedy for the world's discord is rooted in the refinement of the heart.
Browning centered her message on 4 Nephi 1:15, about an era in the Book of Mormon when there was no contention because widespread love for God filled the peoples' hearts.
"I can lay hold on that promise," she said, "that as we continue to refine our hearts, as we make it more pure, as we make it more charitable, as we make it more understanding, as we seek for our hearts to connect with others, that the beat of our hearts, the beat of the hearts of God's children, will start to be more harmonious again, that we will find that promise that we're looking for — no contention in the land, unity and love — because we're singing the same song, and the song is the song of love of God."
All of Sunday's speakers delivered their messages in front of the chapel's stained-glass window depicting the visit of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith in what Latter-day Saints call the First Vision.
Johnson called speaking in the meeting an honor, thanked Elders Rasband and Gong and noted that another church leader in attendance, Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy, has become a friend. Elder Gerard has been the executive director of the church's Public Affairs Department for three years.
On Sunday afternoon, Johnson attended a second sacrament meeting in Salt Lake's Rose Park area with Elder Gerard.