Sarah Jane Weaver: How respect supports collaboration and friendship

What the Rev. Amos Brown and President Russell M. Nelson teach about working together

I will never forget the first time I heard the Rev. Amos Brown — pastor of the historic Third Baptist Church of San Francisco — pronounce the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It had been only a few months since President Russell M. Nelson asked the world to use the full and correct name of the Church during October 2018 general conference.

I had complied. But the full name of the Church rolled off my tongue rushed and muted, with slurred syllables. It was not comfortable or deliberate.

Like me, the Rev. Brown acknowledged President Nelson’s request to use the full name of the Church. But he responded differently.

He spoke the words “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” with intention, intonation and confidence. He emphasized every syllable.

It was a powerful sign of respect.

The evening after I first met Rev. Brown on July 21, 2019, he introduced President Nelson at the NAACP national convention in Detroit, Michigan.

“Although he comes from a different faith tradition and a different race,” President Nelson and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are locking arms with the NAACP to lift God’s children, the Rev. Brown said.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, share a laugh with the Rev. Theresa Dear, left, and the Rev. Amos Brown, right, at the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

During his remarks, President Nelson praised the work of the NAACP — the United States’ oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization.

Then he issued a timely invitation.

“Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can,” he said. “This world will never be the same.”

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The evening was just one of many in a series of collaborations between the two leaders.

After protests, riots and violence across the United States, President Nelson, the Rev. Brown and other NAACP leaders published a joint op-ed column on June 8, 2020, asking “people everywhere to join us in a journey of understanding and overcoming.”

“We invite all to pray to God that the people of this land will heed the divine call to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children,” wrote the leaders. “We also invite people of goodwill everywhere to look for ways to reach out and serve someone of a different background or race. Everyone can do something.”

The following year, sitting side by side in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City, President Nelson and the Rev. Brown linked arms again as they announced education and humanitarian initiatives for the NAACP and the Church.

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The Church and the NAACP are motivated to action, President Nelson said. “We call for greater civility and kindness. And we work together to bless the lives of God’s children.”

This week President Nelson received the first Gandhi-King-Mandela Peace Prize from the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College, a historically Black school in Atlanta, Georgia. The college honored President Nelson “for his global efforts in ‘abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice against any group of God’s children’ through nonviolent ways.”

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Oil portraits of President Nelson and former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln were inducted into the Hall of Honor in the King chapel. Their portraits hang alongside more than 150 portraits of other civil and human rights leaders. The Rev. Brown attended the event.

It is hard for me not to think about this honor for President Nelson and the Church without thinking about the Rev. Brown and the leaders’ friendship.

I have thought about the first time I heard the Rev. Brown pronounce the name of my church and how it changed the way I pronounced the names of both my church and his church — as well as the names of other faiths. I have thought about the way — just a few hours later — President Nelson greeted Rev. Brown. “How are you, dear friend,” he said as the pair embraced.

They each modeled an important lesson. Respect is a powerful tool. It lays a foundation that supports collaboration and results in stronger communities and nations.

In the op-ed they wrote together, President Nelson and the Rev. Brown explained how respect can turn to genuine friendship.

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“Some might think us unlikely collaborators, but our respective organizations have connected in a significant way,” they wrote. “Not as Black or white, not as Baptists or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but as children of God who are working to bring hope, happiness and love to all of God’s children.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts his arm around the Rev. Amos C. Brown as the Church and NAACP announce a partnership at a press conference at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 14, 2021. The partnership will provide $6 million in humanitarian aid over three years to inner cities in the United States, $3 million in scholarship donations over as many years to the United Negro College Fund, and a fellowship to send up to 50 students to Ghana to learn about Black American and African history. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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