In 1979, Howard W. Hunter, a Mormon apostle, gave a speech to students at the Mormon university, Brigham Young University. Mormon is a nickname sometimes applied to the people who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This address, called “All Are Alike Unto God,” called on students to recognize that God is the Father of all human beings and He loves all His children equally.
Elder Hunter chose as his theme a popular Book of Mormon scripture:
“And he inviteth them all 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 he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:33).
This verse is one of history’s earliest sermons on race. It reminds listeners that God wants all His children to come to Him and does not favor one race, gender, nationality, or even religion over another. All are invited to find Him and to seek out specific truth.
Unlike most religions, Elder Hunter points out, Mormonism believes we were all brothers and sisters who lived together as a family even before our births. Mormonism teaches that God created our spirits and we lived as spirits with God prior to coming to Earth to live. We lived there for a very long time, interacting with one another, learning the gospel, getting to know God, letting Him get to know us, and becoming the people we are. Our spirits had form, although not substance, and so we most likely looked essentially as we do today. It is, says Elder Hunter, a fundamental teaching of Mormonism that we are all brothers and sisters because we have the same Heavenly Father. We also all descend from the same single set of parents, Adam and Eve, making us all literally family here on Earth.
Elder Hunter quoted Paul’s reminder of this to intellectuals on Mars Hill who worshipped a different god. ““And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).
Elder Hunter explained that the last part of this verse tells us God chose the countries various people would go before they came to earth and sent them there for His own purposes. In the Bible, we see examples of this, as God sends Abraham, Israelites, and others into specific locations where they are needed. This means that we are all where God needs us to be in order to carry out His plans for the world. Each nation serves a valuable purpose in the plan and He loves all nations equally.
Elder Hunter told of how Peter, the New Testament apostle, learned this important lesson. Although the talk only references the scripture, the full story is very enlightening. In his day, Jews and Gentiles did not associate with each other due to prejudice. One day Peter, in Joppa, went onto a rooftop of the home where he was having dinner in order to pray privately. During this prayer, he received a vision in which a sheet came down from heaven, filled with animals then deemed unclean. Peter still obeyed the law of Moses and did not eat unclean animals, but the Lord told him to eat them. Peter protested, saying he had never eaten anything unclean or common. The Lord responded firmly, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
Peter didn’t understand what the vision meant, but in the meantime, God had been preparing a situation that would explain it to him. There was a Gentile so honorable, moral, spiritual, and good that he was well-loved, even by the Jews. He devoted his life to helping the poor. God sent an angel to this Gentile, whose name was Cornelius, and instructed him to send three men to Peter and to ask Peter to come to Cornelius. The angel assured Cornelius God was aware of his goodness and that God wanted Cornelius to listen to what Peter would tell him.
As Peter finished his prayer, the Spirit told him there were three men here to see him. Peter promptly went to them and learned why they had coming. After giving them food and lodging for the night, the next morning they set out together with others to Cornelius. Cornelius had gathered his friends and family to hear whatever message Peter would bring them and he mistakenly bowed down before Peter, who instructed him that only God must be worshipped. He taught the assembled group the gospel of Jesus Christ. This was an historic moment, and one that was actually illegal. Until this time, the gospel had only been taught to the Jews. When Jesus was resurrected, He told His apostles to take the gospel message to all the world, but they hadn’t really understood what Jesus meant by this. Now, however, Peter realized the vision had referred to the preaching of the gospel and to how we are supposed to treat one another.
“Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” After talking with Cornelius, Peter declared, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” Peter and the other apostles began to teach the gospel to anyone who would listen, not just the Jews. (See Acts 10)
Today’s Mormons strive to follow the teachings from these early scriptures. Mormons have never had segregated congregations. Boundaries are drawn for congregations and people attend the congregation assigned to their boundaries. In areas with many Mormons, this might be a few blocks. In other areas, it can encompass many towns.
Joseph Smith officially opposed slavery and it was a platform of his campaign for president. This official church opposition to slavery led to some of the persecution the Mormons experienced when they lived in border states preparing to vote on slavery. In the early days of the church, black teenager Jane Manning led a group of free black family members to Nauvoo, Illinois, where the Mormons then lived in a community. They had to walk much of the way after being denied passage on a boat, possibly due to their race.
When they arrived, they were weak, hungry, and in great pain due to feet that had bled. Someone directed them to report to Joseph Smith’s home to learn what to do next. His wife, Emma, saw them coming and invited them in. They had arrived at dinner time, so Joseph personally added chairs to the table for them—and this prior to the Civil War, when blacks did not eat at the same table as whites. He asked Jane to share her story and then invited the group to live with him until they found jobs and homes. In time, all of them did so except for Jane.
The Smiths found her in tears because she could not find a job. They invited her to work for them and to continue living in their home, which she did until Joseph Smith was murdered, at which time she went to live in the home of Brigham Young. When she died, the current Mormon prophet, Joseph F. Smith, spoke at her funeral, a testimony to the overwhelming respect she had earned in the Mormon community through her loving and unselfish dedication to helping all in need, even when she had little to give.
Recently, there has been negative commentary on past practices concerning the priesthood. While black men originally held the priesthood, this was discontinued while Brigham Young was the prophet. Although research has been done into the subject, there are no surviving historical records that explain why this occurred. However, the priesthood was given to all worthy men in the 1970s after Spencer W. Kimball pleaded with God for a revelation that would allow him to restore it. Previous prophets had prayed for this also, but had not received answers. Today, all worthy men are given the priesthood.
The Mormon leadership recently made the following statement:
“The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.” (See Race and the Church: All Are Alike Unto God.)
Read the 1979 talk by Howard W. Hunter on this subject”