Ryan Gabriel, assistant professor of sociology at BYU, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address on healing racism through Jesus Christ.
Gabriel spoke of the history of racial injustice in the United States and how we can learn from contemplating these challenging historical moments. He believes there is much to be admired about the history of our country, but unfortunately, patterns of racism have also been part of its narrative.
Looking at painful past situations through the lens of Jesus Christ will help us better appreciate and understand the healing power of the Prince of Peace.
“Expanding our understanding of the suffering and tragedies of others can awaken charity within us,” Gabriel said. “Our hearts can connect in solidarity over our shared experience striving for life and to have it more abundantly.”
In his research, Gabriel mainly focuses on how acts of racial injustice have affected the African American community. On this note, he spoke of racist practices such as slavery, lynching, and convict leasing that occurred in the early years of the United States.
Such acts of cruelty toward our brothers and sisters can be painful to imagine, but we can find peace in knowing our Savior knows and has experienced their pains wholly and completely.
Gabriel reminds us, “Knowledge that Christ suffers with us can provide solace to our hearts and minds when reflecting on the injustices done to our brothers and sisters.”
To showcase efforts resisting society’s unjust racial hierarchy, Gabriel shared the famous stories of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus and the boycotts and marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The many men and women who fought for racial equality labored tirelessly to give hope to those who hungered for a more just world.
“To use our own Latter-day Saint phrasing, many of these individuals, Black and White, who strove for fairer societies mourned with those that mourned, provided comfort to those who stood in need of comfort, and stood as witnesses of God even until death,” stated Gabriel.
While there have been strides made to root out racism, it continues to be a destructive force in society today. The adversary uses many tactics, such as pride and greed, to distort our very identity as spirit children of Heavenly Parents.
As children of loving Heavenly Parents, it is important for us to remember we were created to look exactly how we look. We all have divine potential, and we all play important roles in God’s eternal plan of happiness. God does not love one race more than another.
“Hence, no matter what the world tells us, there is no need for us to look like anyone else for us to be worthy of love and respect,” Gabriel said. “Our skin tones are as they should be, and they are beautiful.”
Understanding the difficulties of those who experience racial injustice starts with recognizing and appreciating the many races and cultures that surround us. Gabriel clarifies that pretending race is not important does not help heal the wounds of past far-reaching injustices.
“To pretend race is not important does not show compassion for the experiences of others who, by virtue of their experiences with racism, know that it is. Christ himself asks us to remember and know His suffering—to touch the scars on His hands and feet,” he said. “He does not ask us to ignore or wish away another’s pain but to know it and touch it."
To deny the genuine pain of another is to deny the very suffering Christ felt for them privately in the Garden of Gethsemane and publicly upon the cross at Calvary.
Gabriel suggests that learning to follow the two great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbors will help us become a more Zion-like people who better understands how to help those struggling with the pains of racial injustice. He provides a number of great ways to build Zion in this way, such as apologizing when we have hurt someone and asking for forgiveness, reading and learning about cultures that are different from our own, and praying for charity.
“As representatives of Christ, we can work hard to heal the painful legacies of racism that we inherited, legacies that manifest in new and pernicious ways,” he said. “Taking this action will help us alleviate the suffering of others.”