I joined the Church by myself in central California, USA, when I was a teenager, and in the 20-plus years since then, I’ve always been either the only Black person in my ward or one of a very, very few. I have had some difficult experiences, even at church, with regards to my race. Thankfully, I have a testimony that God loves me and that there is a place for all of us in His kingdom.
Ideally, church can be a place of refuge for us when we’re struggling and need the support and fellowship of people who share our values. However, that sense of safety and support can be stripped away if you feel excluded because of your differences. Being different can be hard, and it’s hard to describe what it’s like to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
While Church leaders have called on “all people to abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group or individual,”1 there are some who still haven’t learned how to do it. I saw that as a young single adult when I was left to wonder if that was why none of the boys were interested in dating me and if I would ever have the opportunity to marry in the temple because of it. I see it now when someone at church makes an incorrect comment about race that makes me feel singled out, as if my worthiness is being evaluated in front of everyone. And if no one speaks up to correct this false doctrine, I am left to do it alone.
It’s uncomfortable to be stared at, to have people touch my hair without permission, or to be ignored. And when I try to talk about these things, it hurts deeply when I am told by people I love and trust that I’m just making things up, being too sensitive, or acting like a victim.
Why do I and others share these painful experiences? It’s because I want to be part of my ward family. It’s because I see how much I could contribute if given the opportunity. But I feel like I’m on the periphery of Church life—not fully sheltered in the refuge we all need. It’s because with greater mutual understanding, we can be so much better together.
President Russell M. Nelson has reminded us that “God does not love one race more than another.”2
Our differences aren’t something that we need to simply overlook. They are an important part of God’s plan. Paul taught:
“Now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. …
“The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee” (see 1 Corinthians 12:17–21).
Each of us is the result of innumerable choices and experiences that have shaped our particular worldview, and there is beauty and strength gained from our differences.
Our diversity makes us better, not just because we all have different strengths but because we have to work together in unity to be blessed by those strengths. In fact, our differences help us learn and grow as we move forward together, preparing for Christ to come again.
As we work together to find greater unity, it won’t always be easy. It requires us to be humble enough to acknowledge different perspectives, learn from those who are different from us, and change if we find out we have been wrong.
We can do this by expanding our circle of friends and by seeking additional perspectives through reliable resources. We need to hear those we see as different from us and acknowledge their experiences as valid. To understand one another, we need to listen to one another. In an essay for the Church, Darius Gray said, “If our honest focus was to let them share of their lives, their histories, their families, their hopes, and their pains, not only would we gain a greater understanding, but this practice would go a long way toward healing the wounds of racism.”3
I want to give people an opportunity to get to know me, so I try to be open and honest with and kind to everyone I meet. I try to initiate friendships by inviting people to lunch and starting conversations. I try to create safe spaces for honesty, vulnerability, and love, and make time for other people the way I hope they’ll make time for me. I try to be the friend I want to have—which includes trying to understand experiences others have had that I don’t share.
I’ve felt seen and included by simple acts of kindness and reaching out. I feel included when people make an effort to have a real conversation with me, make time for me, or invite me to spend time with them. It feels so good when people show that they want to be around you.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity.”4
When we choose to take the time to understand one another’s life experiences—even when it’s not easy for us to do so—and choose to work together to use what we’ve been given to serve the Lord and one another, we are so much more than the sum of our parts.