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The Levite, the Priest, and the Good Samaritan in a World of Racial Injustice

Artwork from St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Northern Ireland

The many instances of some- times lethal violence and discrimination against Black people that have been widely publicized in the news media in the last several months have been deeply disturbing to me and

to many others. While media coverage has largely focused on police violence, the ensuing protests, and disparities injustice, the current coronavirus pandemic has also laid bare a whole set of other inequities, including access to healthcare, employment outcomes, education, and housing conditions.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen enunciated BYU’s position on racism and violence in a statement released on 2 June 2020: “BYU stands firmly against racism and violence in any form and is committed to promoting a culture of safety, kindness, respect, and love. As we continue to move forward together, let us do so with charity. Let us be kind. Let us respect others. Let us listen. Let us follow the example of Jesus Christ.”

The previous day, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints, released a similar statement that did not mince words: “The Creator of us all calls on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children. Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent! During the Savior’s earthly mission, He constantly ministered to those who were excluded, marginalized, judged, overlooked, abused, and discounted. As His followers, can we do anything less?”

President Nelson’s call to repent has settled deeply in my soul. What do I personally need to do to repent? But the question is much broader than that. As the leader of an institution, I have been grappling with the question of what it means for an institution to repent. What is the responsibility of organizations to combat racism in today’s world? What is my role as a leader in bringing about institutional reform at BYU Marriott?

Some have felt compelled to join in the hundreds of protests that have occurred around the world in the past few months. More than fifty years ago, George Romney, namesake of the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics here at BYU Marriott, was one of those who marched for civil rights.

Then, as now, these protests sometimes turned violent. Then, as now, force was used to quell these riots. But George Romney correctly noted that “force alone will not eliminate riots. . . . We must eliminate the problems from which they stem.” More than fifty years later, we have not eliminated the underlying problems. Should we then be sur- prised that more than fifty years later we still see protests that sometimes turn violent?

In a joint statement issued on 8 June 2020, President Nelson and leaders of the NAACP made an appeal to the institutions in our civil society to be leaders in eliminating racism at all levels: “We likewise call on government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all. It is past time for every one of us to elevate our conversations above divisive and polarizing rhetoric. Treating others with respect matters. Treating each other as sons and daughters of God matters.”

President Nelson did not exempt BYU from this injunction. What should we do at BYU Marriott to address racism? What is our part in eradicating the problems from which the fundamental inequalities in our society stem?

As I have thought about what we can do— and what we should do—at BYU Marriott, I have come back again and again to the parable of the good Samaritan. In the New Testament, the Savior taught that we should love the Lord and that we should love our neighbor. He gave this parable in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” (see Luke 10:29). I would like to focus on just a few of the many lessons we can learn from this story.

What did the Samaritan do? First and foremost, he had compassion. This compassion was shown in part by being physically present. Significantly, the Samaritan went to the side of the injured man and tended to his wounds. He then took the man to an inn where he would be safe and further attended to. Finally, the Samaritan paid for his care. (See Luke 10:33–35.)

Equally important are lessons learned from the inaction of the Levite and the priest who chose to pass by on the other side of the road. What explains their failure to minister to a fellow child of God?

  • Perhaps they had a busy day and simply could not spare the time to help.
  • Perhaps they didn’t care or, even worse, had contempt for someone who was not like them.
  • Perhaps they were worried about their own discomfort upon seeing the great injus- tice done to this man and potentially con- fronting their role in it.
  • Perhaps they wanted to avoid the possibility of a difficult conversation with a man who might not react kindly to their attention.
  • Perhaps they reasoned that they might come across someone more deserving of their help farther down the road.
  • Perhaps they felt incapable of rendering aid because they had not been adequately trained to do so.

Finally, how might this parable apply to our situation today? Clearly, the Savior’s intention with this parable was to encourage us to behave more like the Samaritan than either the Levite or the priest. I ask myself:

  • Would the good Samaritan make a banner, march in an anti-violence protest, and call it good for the day?
  • Would he tweet to the world a declaration that he is not a racist, congratulating himself for having fulfilled his moral obligation in 140 characters or less?
  • Would he tend to the man but then leave him on the road rather than take him to the inn because rooms in the inn were limited, and if the wounded man took the last room in the inn, the Samaritan might find himself sleeping on the street?
  • Would he pat himself on the back for having removed the barrier that allowed the man equal access to the road, content that he had done his part to create a more equal world?
  • Would he blame the man for his misfortune? After all, didn’t he know the road to Jericho was populated by thieves?
  • Would he pull out his checkbook and donate to a local charity deemed to be in a better position to help the man?
  • Would he have concluded that perhaps the greater systemic problems leading to violence on the road to Jericho were better handled by institutions such as churches or the government?
  • Would he stand by passively, reasoning that since he had not robbed and injured the man, he had no responsibility in addressing the predicament at hand?
Love is an action verb. And love is sometimes messy and uncomfortable and hard work. Whether or not we feel like we have any part in the racism that pervades our society, we like the Samaritan, must act.

Alumni and friends of BYU Marriott, love is an action verb. And love is sometimes messy and uncomfortable and hard work. Whether or not we feel like we have any part in the racism that pervades our society, we, like the Samaritan, must act. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. The opposite of racism is not not racism, it is anti-racism. It is actively doing things to love our neighbors of all races and to ensure that their lives are as good as our own in all the ways that matter.

While we press forward with the process of examining how we can address racism at BYU Marriott, I invite you to assess how you can be part of a similar effort in your com- munities. What can we all do to help create a more equal world where we love our neigh- bors as much as we love ourselves, and where they believe it because of our actions?

In the past six months, we have witnessed countries around the world brought to a vir- tual standstill in a concerted attempt to stop a lethal virus from indiscriminately killing people. What would our world look like if we could bring the same resources to bear in the fight against racism?

In his April 2020 general conference talk, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland expressed this hope:

“When we have conquered this [pandemic]— and we will—may we equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger, freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught—not terrified they will be shot—and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice.”

My fervent hope is that we can redouble our efforts at BYU Marriott in bringing to pass Elder Holland’s apostolic vision.

This article is adapted from remarks made by Dean Brigitte C. Madrian during a BYU Marriott town hall meeting held 11 June 2020.

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