Tracy McKay Lamb is the author of The Burning Point (2017) and lives and attends church in Virginia.  She wrote in to describe her experience last month teaching Sunday School for teenagers in the wake of Charlottesville:

Recently, my husband and I were invited to teach the 15-16 year old Sunday School class in our Northern Virginia ward. We live an easy drive from Charlottesville, where only weeks before, white supremacists had marched on the college town, burning torches and raising Nazi and Confederate flags.

We both felt strongly that we needed to address current events with our class and invite a dialogue where the kids could talk openly, ask questions and where we could discuss the recent statements issued by the Church Newsroom regarding race and the idea white supremacy.

We began by talking briefly about the church’s official position of neutrality on political issues. We asked the class to think about other statements they’d heard read over the pulpit at other time to give context for the choice of language the church used in the Newsroom Statements. We read the original statement released on Sunday, August 13, 2017.

“It is with great sadness and deep concern that we view the violence, conflict and tragedy of recent days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People of any faith, or of no faith at all, should be troubled by the increase of intolerance in both words and actions that we see everywhere. More than a decade ago, the late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910- 2008) addressed the topic of racism when speaking to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He powerfully and clearly taught this principle: “No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.” For members of the Church, we reaffirm that teaching today and the Savior’s admonition to love our neighbor. Our prayers are with those who are suffering because of this intolerance and hatred. We pray for peace and for understanding. Above all, we pray that we may treat one another with greater kindness, compassion and goodness.”

We discussed what this means to us as Latter-day Saints, and we invited the teens to share their feelings bout Charlottesville and the statement. We then explained that some Latter-day Saints had interpreted this statement differently. We explained there were people who believed this statement left room for positions of racial superiority to be propped up, and that some people were using the words of prophets to support belief in the separation of races and racial superiority. They were surprised, and we then talked about some of what was posted online after this statement. We did not visit direct links; I explained about driving up traffic to hate sites and being careful about the media clicks, and instead used Peggy Fletcher Stack’s piece for the Salt Lake Tribune.

We then read the second official statement:

UPDATE: Tuesday, August 15, 2017 The Church has released the following statement: “It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro- white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament, Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39). The Book of Mormon teaches “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).  White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a “white culture” or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.”

We allowed the gravity of this second statement to sit quietly with the class for a moment. We invited them to consider why this second statement was necessary, and what it meant. We again talked about language and usage, and pointed out the wording was specific and targeted, the unusual nature of it in a church statement was indicative of the seriousness with which it should be taken.

This statement creates a clear, bright line on which every Latter-day Saint can check themselves, their interactions, and their personal beliefs. For teens navigating growing up in tumultuous times, there is no ambiguity in this statement. We spent the rest of the lesson allowing the class to discuss if or how this would change their interactions with friends and peers.

Observations were made: It wasn’t acceptable to make or laugh at racial jokes made by people—even if they were ‘just kidding.’ It was important to speak up if a friend said something, even casually, that was a stereotype and untrue. “Good standing” in the church is vital to our membership, and this statement made it perfectly clear that one can not hold prejudiced or racist attitudes and maintain good standing.

What can Tracy’s efforts and experience teach us?  Share your observations, experiences, and thoughts.

Tracy McKay