Apr 3, 2023 - Politics

Latter-Day Saints leaders call for a gentler touch

Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in 2019. Photo: George Frey / Getty Images

Latter-day Saint President Russell M. Nelson called on members to handle religious debates with more kindness during the church's semiannual General Conference, held downtown this weekend.

  • Church leader Ulisses Soares also warned members not to indulge in "flaming hostility" on social media.

Why it matters: The faith community has not escaped the ideological polarization evident in the larger U.S. culture, with some far-right voices accused of promoting violence and coordinating harassment of dissenters on social media in recent years.

What they're saying: “I am greatly concerned that so many people seem to believe that it is completely acceptable to condemn, malign and vilify anyone who does not agree with them,” Nelson said.

Zoom in: Nelson denounced "contention" in faith-related conversations, which prompted reflection among some progressive and orthodox members on social media about how to stand up for one's beliefs or challenge harmful behavior without being accused of creating hostility.

  • "...Nelson said there's no room for prejudice or contention, but I fear the latter is inevitable if we are to ever rid ourselves of the former," tweeted James Jones, a Latter-day Saint antiracism educator.

Of note: Nelson said it is "time to bury your weapons of war" — a contrast to other recent imagery from the church.

  • In a 2021 speech, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland urged "a little more musket fire" in defense of the church's anti-LGBTQ+ positions and said it was not yet time to "beat our swords into plowshares."
  • That speech is under renewed scrutiny as students at state-funded Southern Utah University protest his selection as the spring commencement speaker.

Zoom out: Some Utah politicians applauded Nelson's statements, with Republican Gov. Spencer Cox calling the weekend’s speech "a ​​masterclass in solving our toxic divide" and Democrat state Rep. Brian King saying respectful disagreement is "essential if we want to survive as a state and country."


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