It was February 2000, in Albany, N.Y., and a deep chill gripped the city that had nothing to do with the season. The Empire State's capital city had become cold and divided.
For several days that month, police cars patrolled outside the courthouse and entire downtown blocks were cordoned off. Television trucks brandished with the logos of national news outlets were lined in rows, their satellite towers stretching to the skies.
The nation had focused its attention on downtown Albany where four white New York City police officers were on trial after shooting and killing an unarmed black man. Prosecutors argued the officers had used excessive force. Their defenders countered that the plain-clothed officers had acted reasonably when the man allegedly ignored the officers' orders to stop and show his hands and, in the darkness, withdrew an object from his jacket that the officers believed was a gun.
The four officers opened fire and killed the man. The object pulled from the jacket was later found to be a rectangular black wallet.
The event prompted widespread demonstrations and a judge had ordered that the trial be moved from New York City to Albany. By chance, a Church News reporter was in the capital city during the week of the trial on an unrelated assignment. He attended LDS Sunday services in a refurbished building formerly used as a Knights of Pythius Hall. He wondered if the tension that was pervasive across the city had found its way inside the tiny downtown branch.
Instead, the reporter found sanctuary. On a frigid Sabbath morning, the Albany 2nd Branch provided a gathering of warmth and gospel unity.
The branch was defined by its diversity. Some members were black, others white. One family was from Nigeria, another from Chile. Sunday school classes were taught in both English and Spanish.
There was no mention of the controversial events of the day. Surely the members were aware of the ongoing trial — and many likely had strong, even opposing opinions on the matter. But the Albany 2nd Branch members fellowshipped and worshipped as one. They were a gathering of Saints unified by their love of Christ and His Church.
Such peace and unity in the gospel was found again several years later in a Latin American nation where political schisms divided families and communities. Many of the members there had opposing, deep-rooted feelings about their country's political circumstances. Local Church leaders utilized prayer and example to maintain unity within their congregations. They focused on the Savior and His teachings.
"We have talked about ways to become closer to God and feel peace inside the Church, even when there is no peace outside," said one stake president.
In the March 1991 edition of the Ensign, Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy noted the diversity that defines the modern-day Church. Differences among the members, he wrote, need not lead to divisions among the members.
"The question of whether there is a unifying force powerful enough to overcome the divisive elements of diversity is answered with a resounding yes! Inspired and energetic leaders are required. Where there is vision, the people respond. The doctrine is in place. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Church, and all who join are 'no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.' The prophet of God gives us a single authoritative voice on matters of doctrine and practice. Priesthood authority granted to men gives them the right to baptize, bestow the Holy Ghost, and bless our congregations with unity without robbing us of our diversity. Authoritative scriptures contain the word of God to guide us. Basic gospel ordinances, weekly sacrament meetings, temple blessings, and a universal priesthood and Relief Society are available. The gospel is centered in homes, and the work of spreading the gospel through missionary service and temple service for our deceased ancestors keeps all members involved, providing a dynamic, action-filled life for the Saints. Undergirding everything, the Holy Ghost unifies all who live worthily to receive and magnify its gifts.
"Despite these simple and unifying doctrines and practices, there are some barriers to creating a greater unity amid our diversity. These barriers include racial and cultural discrimination and attitudes of separatism. The gospel is marvelously sufficient to create the desired unity, but people are imperfect. Discomfort because of language barriers, fear of accepting those with differences in skin color, alienation of singles — all have created barriers to unity. Usually, this mistreatment, isolation, and discrimination is self-justified by the use of labels. Labeling a fellow Church member an intellectual, a less-active member, a feminist, a South African, an Armenian, a Utah Mormon, or a Mexican, for example, seemingly provides an excuse to mistreat or ignore that person. These problems and many more need to be addressed if we are to create a society such as that which Enoch created.
"As we become one with God, we will become one with each other. As we become one with each other, we will become one with God."
In his April 1998 general conference address Elder Henry B. Eyring, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, echoed the essential role the Holy Ghost will play in bringing about unity in a divided world.
"Where people have that Spirit with them, we may expect harmony. The Spirit puts the testimony of truth in our hearts, which unifies those who share that testimony. The Spirit of God never generates contention. It never generates the feelings of distinctions between people which lead to strife. It leads to personal peace and a feeling of union with others. It unifies souls. A unified family, a unified Church, and a world at peace depend on unified souls."