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To Learn and Then Act is Christ’s Way

By Jennie LaFortune

I sit and dance with the cursor— two words forward, one delete back, in rhythm with the collective throb of our country’s pulse of need. It feels odd, even wrong to write about what I had planned, and it feels careless to not write about what is happening in our country, families, friends, and ourselves right now. My words feel wanting, an inadequate addition to what is already out there, but I believe our faith community is tasked and even charged to act in support of those in need: to Black communities, to sick communities, to the vulnerable, and to people helping effect change and safety for our people and country.

The streets are filled with voices. Demands for change and reform. There is mourning, empowerment, defeat—a righteous anger embodying visual realities and calls to action. And I stand with them and know that this is also not enough. I, like you, have probably seen a lot of references to Luke 15. You know– the 100 sheep and the one goes missing. Jesus leaves the 99 and goes after the one. And then there’s Mosiah 29. Speaking to unrighteous acts of the powerful. I picture a transparency of these parables and accounts laid on top of current news headlines. Their story is often our story.

Racism is a call to understand ourselves better.

I feel the Savior is there. He is here. Standing in the uncomfortable spaces with us, besides us, teaching as he always does.

While feeling woefully unqualified at being another white voice attempting to create content, I remembered a moment that I think about often.

During July, 2018, I attended a slavery and abolition conference for educators in New York. While walking in Harlem to our next lecture location, the instructor stopped us and gestured to everything and nothing in particular on the streets. “This,” he said. “This. You are looking at and witness to the direct generational and very true realities of slavery, and systemic and institutionalized racism. This is not a story about far, far away or once upon a time. They are living embodiments of that legacy.” While its poignancy for me was a culmination of interaction with different knowledge and communities during the conference, I still hope that idea can sit with us all for a moment because, again, racism is a call to understand ourselves and, I believe, the Savior and our gospel better.

The organization that hosted the conference, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, made a statement yesterday and closed with a powerful quote I think is edifying and worth sharing in 2020. It’s a 1777 plea from African Americans appealing for equal rights during the Revolutionary War.

“…your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural and unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally on all Mankind, & which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever—But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, and some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents—from a populous, pleasant and plentiful Country—& in Violation of the Laws of Nature & of Nation & in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burthen, & like them condemned to slavery for Life…In imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these States, your Petitioners have long & patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by them presented to the Legislative Body of this State, & can not but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar—They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great-Britain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners…whereby they may be restored to the enjoyment of that freedom which is the natural right of all Men—& their Children…” Lancaster Hill, Peter Bess, Brister Slenser, Prince Hall, Jack Pierpont, Nero Funelo, Newport Sumner, and Job.

To learn and then act is Christ’s way, and I hope to be a better disciple in this respect. To repent and make right.

About Jennie LaFortune

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Figuring life out one book, beach, road trip, museum, and front porch conversation at a time. Perpetually on the search for the best dark chocolate, finest pen, and greenest field. When she's not teaching high school, she loves to spend time with friends and family, the shore of any ocean, holding her friends' babies, or taking long neighborhood walks.

4 thoughts on “To Learn and Then Act is Christ’s Way”

  1. Jennie:

    Thank you for sharing your experience of attending a conference on slavery and abolition. That must have been informative, sobering, and galvanizing. I particularly was moved to read the petition for equality in our democracy from these colonial-era men: Lancaster Hill, Peter Bess, Brister Slenser, Prince Hall, Jack Pierpont, Nero Funelo, Newport Sumner, and Job. I have only read from Olaudah Equiano's memoir from that era. Our textbooks often tell a very narrow story about our past, so thank you for pointing out that there are histories and that there is a very longstanding tradition for petitioning for equality. KDA

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  2. Thank You Jennie,
    Visiting the Underground Railroad museum in Indianapolis brought turmoil to my mind. Our guide was black and commented that it was blacks who sold blacks into slavery. It was then supposedly more humane than genocide which also was going on and still is.
    I had read this before, but our guide had deep feelings about the ongoing resentment of the past. The fear of the unknown feeding new hate and more racial discrimination. His heart was very sore.
    I am an immigrant, a legal one. One who jumped through all the hoops and was checked inside out, and upside down, before I came x-rays in hand, and was actually welcomed to the country in New York. I was not welcomed universally in Utah. I was surprised at the negative emotions my accent brought out and how many "very good" followers of our Savior hated me before I could finish a full sentence. Particularly women hated me. I truly felt picked on.
    Yet, a black professor friend of mine pointed out that if I kept my mouth shut I could walk about without anyone recognizing me as a foreigner. He could not leave his skin hanging in the closet and pass others unnoticed.
    We adopted two children with dark skin. What I thought I had learned did not even begin to cover their needs of fitting in. Our other children and us as parents, saw their pigmentation as no different than blue eyes versus brown eyes etc. They had to bear the burden without me coming even near to understanding…although I thought I did. I loved them. Was not that enough? NO !!!
    Yet, I will not march with the protesters. I try to talk with people in power face to face when I can. I had a leader tell me it would be better if I was dead so my husband would not have to put up with "damaged goods." I believe what I felt at the time is about as close as I can come to understanding.
    You can not legislate acceptance. You can not force brotherly love on anyone, not even on yourself. You have to choose to be kind and to learn how not to fear those who are different. You can make laws that punish those who murder etc. Those already exist.
    The destruction that rioters cause to fearful emotions can not be cured with banalities or patronizing statements. It can take generations do undo the damage.
    When we can not love outright, we can still pray. Don't discount the power of the Lord to help. He helps those willing to receive it, He does not force His love on anyone. He is the one to best guide us through the very complicated lives we live.
    It sounds like I am patronizing. Sorry. Some things are just true, and the fact that life is not fair and equally lovely for everyone is one of those facts. Yet, we are lovingly guided in our efforts to be kinder. Never give up.

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