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SALT LAKE CITY — Latter-day Saint young adults should be loving and avoid contentious debates while standing fast on matters of church doctrine, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, said Tuesday at Ensign College in Salt Lake City.
"We must stand fast against the values and practices that draw us away from the Lord's teachings and our covenants, privileges and obligations," President Oaks said. "We can do this in love."
President Oaks and Elder Clark G. Gilbert, the church commissioner of education, reiterated bright, clear positions leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have taken against racism and against prejudice toward LGBTQ people.
They similarly repeated past statements by church leaders that the U.S. Constitution is inspired by God and that the church must maintain its doctrine on the family.
President Oaks again called racism a real and ongoing issue, and noted that President Russell M. Nelson has called for all people to abandon all attitudes of prejudice.
But he spoke against extreme criticism of the Constitution, saying for example that its Bill of Rights guarantees and protects the good that religion can do, and that religion has a positive impact on societies generally.
"In condemning and working against racism, we encourage our students, our teachers and all our members to avoid extreme or polarizing positions and teachings that undermine the U.S. Constitution and other core institutions," said President Oaks, a former president of Brigham Young University.
He reiterated the common ground the church has found with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and warned against contentious theories and arguments.
"One way our common ground with others can be undermined is if any contending party sows division and separates communities," President Oaks said.
He restated his position, which he laid out a year ago in a church general conference and had spoken and written about many times in the past, that the U.S. Constitution was imperfect and incomplete at its birth but should be revered.
"We know that the Constitution was inspired by God," he said, "and despite its birth defect of slavery, its inspired principles — including the freedoms of speech and religion and its authorized amendments — have allowed subsequent generations to continue to improve the nation and strengthen the rights of its citizens and it should not be distorted by trying to substitute other motivations for the Constitution as some are trying to propose in our current time."
Students, faculty and staff packed the Assembly Hall on Temple Square long before the college devotional began. The audience reflected Ensign's demographics. More than 50% come from multicultural backgrounds, Elder Gilbert noted.
The Church Educational System serves students around the world, from Asia to Africa, where BYU-Pathway Worldwide now has served more than 10,000 students, said the former president of BYU-Idaho and BYU-Pathway Worldwide.
"If any of you have faced attitudes of prejudice, know you are part of a church that is striving to root out attitudes of racism both within the church and across society," Elder Gilbert said. "You are part of a church that believes in you, will provide you opportunities to grow in the gospel of Jesus Christ and is committed to your education and your future success."
President Oaks asked church members to refrain from "the contentious conversations common today" and said social media often distorts those discussions and generates conflicts.
"It often fosters careless charges, false representations and ugly innuendos that intensify the distance between different parties and their communications," he said. "I'm not criticizing differences in policies. These need to be debated publicly. What I'm urging our members to do is to stand clear from the current atmosphere of hate and personal meanness in communications."
Instead, he asked them to "show the world what you can do that is good as a disciple of Jesus Christ."
He provided five practical actions they can take to use a gospel-centered approach to combating racism and prejudice while showing love and standing fast to their beliefs:
- Avoid overly contentious settings.
- Love others, find common ground, even if you disagree.
- Hold to truth even in our outreach.
- Be a light to the world.
- Stay anchored in Jesus Christ.
President Oaks said church members should lovingly and respectfully defend the church's position on the family while seeking common ground with the LGBTQ community.
"Showing respect does not mean we walk away from our beliefs and fundamental doctrine on the family and its importance to God's 'plan for the eternal destiny of his children' as revealed in the Family Proclamation," he said.
Elder Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy, said many people frame LGBTQ issues as an all-or-nothing Hobson's choice.
"In other words, they say to be loving to our LGBTQ friends you must promote behaviors that violate sacred covenants, or they say to be loyal to our church you must ignore the reality of same-sex attraction and condemn those who experience it. Both statements are wrong," he said.
He also said some on social media engage in shaming or otherwise silencing those who disagree with them.
He quoted Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's statement that Christ never refused love to anyone but also never exempted someone from his commandments. He reminded listeners that the Church Handbook — the governing manual on church practices and policies — calls on members to "to reach out with sensitivity, love, and respect to persons who are attracted to others of the same sex. The church also promotes understanding in society at large that reflects its teachings about kindness, inclusiveness, love for others and respect for all human beings."
President Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, has been at the forefront of the church's efforts to pass Fairness for All legislation, and he noted that the church continues to seek laws that provide increased protections both for LGBTQ people and religions rights.
Elder Gilbert spoke plainly against prejudice toward LGBTQ Latter-day Saints.
"Let me be clear that individuals or groups who do not treat our LGBTQ members with empathy and charity are not aligned with the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ," he said. "At the same time, ignoring God's laws has never been the Savior's pattern for showing love."
He also said church members should be understanding in all communications: "Rather than condemning others, we should simply proclaim what we believe and invite them to follow the Savior. It is their opportunity to choose, not ours to compel."
In addition to Ensign College President Bruce Kusch, three other Church Education System presidents and a lead administrator attended the devotional — BYU President Kevin Worthen, BYU-Pathway Worldwide President Brian Ashton and Chad Webb, the administrator over hundreds of thousands of students in the church's Seminaries and Institutes of Religion.