SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called on members Friday to flood social media over Thanksgiving week with messages of gratitude in what he hopes will serve as a healing tool as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, racism and a lack of civility.
Russell M. Nelson, a 96-year-old former heart surgeon, said in a recorded speech posted online that the COVID-19 pandemic is a great concern to him as "a man of science and faith" but not his only worry.
“I view the current pandemic as only one of many ills that plague our world, including hate, civil unrest, racism, violence, dishonesty and lack of civility," Nelson said.
He urged the Utah-based faith’s 16.5 million members around the globe to appreciate what they have, rather than dwelling on the negative. He pointed to his own ability to overcome pain from his first wife’s death 16 years ago and the passing of two of his daughters to cancer. He told members to post on social media about what they are grateful for each of the next seven days, while also doing daily prayers.
“Counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems. No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription," Nelson said. "Does gratitude spare us from sorrow, sadness, grief, and pain? No, but it does soothe our feelings. It provides us with a greater perspective on the very purpose and joy of life.”
The pandemic has altered how the faith worships — limiting Sunday worship services and sacred ordinances at temples and forcing twice-annual church conferences to be held virtually without people in attendance.
Nelson is considered a prophet who receives guidance from God by members of the faith, widely known as the Mormon church.
He didn't elaborate about racism in the 11-minute speech, but it reflected a growing concern by leaders about racial injustice. Since assuming the top post in 2018, Nelson has preached for racial harmony and mutual respect and launched a formal partnership with the NAACP.
A top-ranking leader called on members to root out racism during a speech at a church conference in October and echoed those sentiments in a subsequent speech to students at church-owned Brigham Young University.
The faith's past ban on Black men in the lay priesthood that stood until 1978 lingers as one of the most sensitive topics in the faith’s history. The church disavowed the ban and the reasons behind it in a 2013 essay — explaining that it was enacted during an era of great racial divide that influenced the church’s early teachings, but never issuing a formal apology for the ban, a sore spot for some members.
The church grew more diverse in 2018 when it selected the first-ever Latin American and person of Asian ancestry to a top governing panel but there are still no Black men on the panel.
In a closing prayer after his recorded speech Friday, Nelson wished for unity.
“We thank Thee for the leaders of nations and others who strive to lift us. We pray for relief from political strife,” he said. “Wilt Thou bless us with a healing spirit that unites us despite our differences.”