Next month President Russell M. Nelson will receive the first Gandhi-King-Mandela Peace Prize from the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College, a historically Black school in Atlanta.
The prize — named for Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela — is awarded to “a person who promotes positive social transformation through nonviolent means. The individuals use their global leadership to affirm peace, justice, diversity and pluralism,” according to a release about the award.
The 98-year-old President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was selected as the inaugural recipient of this award “for his global efforts in ‘abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice against any group of God’s children’ through nonviolent ways.”
President Nelson will accept the Gandhi-King-Mandela Peace Prize via broadcast during an event April 13 at 7 p.m. at the King chapel on the Morehouse campus in Atlanta. Local Latter-day Saints and community members are invited to attend.
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square will also perform virtually and other general Church leaders will attend in person. An announcement will be made on future collaboration between the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to local Church leaders in Georgia.
Oil portraits of President Nelson and former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln will be inducted into the Hall of Honor in the King chapel. Their portraits will hang alongside more than 150 portraits of other civil and human rights leaders.
The Rev. Lawrence Carter, dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse, told the Deseret News more about why President Nelson was selected by the chapel board of directors for the Gandhi-King-Mandela Peace Prize.
“We wanted to identify Russell M. Nelson and link his name with these three giants,” the Rev. Carter said.
“President Nelson is, I believe, a role model for how Christians need to get out of three boxes — the race box, the nationality box and the culture box — to unite the human family,” he said. “With the power of his prophetic, revelational vision, he looked out across great troubles in this country and saw the chance to form an alliance [with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People].”
What President Nelson has said about racism
Throughout his five-year ministry as President of the Church, President Nelson has joined arms with Black leaders to call for greater racial harmony and urged Church members to be examples of abandoning prejudice.
“Arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, may we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere, in every way we can,” President Nelson said at the 110th annual NAACP national convention in July 2019. “This world will never be the same.”
President Nelson to NAACP: ‘May we strive to lift our brothers and sisters everywhere’
Amid protests, riots and violence across the United States in late May and early June 2020, President Nelson posted a statement on social media condemning racism and pleading for peace.
“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? The answer is no! We believe in freedom, kindness and fairness for all of God’s children!” President Nelson wrote.
“Let us be clear,” he continued. “We are brothers and sisters, each of us the child of a loving Father in Heaven. His son, the Lord Jesus Christ, invites all to come unto him — ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female,’ (2 Nephi 26:33). It behooves each of us to do whatever we can in our spheres of influence to preserve the dignity and respect every son and daughter of God deserves. …
“I plead with us to work together for peace, for mutual respect, and for an outpouring of love for all of God’s children.”
In a joint op-ed column published June 8, 2020, President Nelson and senior leaders of the NAACP called for racial reform, 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.”
In October 2020 general conference, President Nelson called upon Latter-day Saints to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.”
“I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. … I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children,” he said.
President Nelson calls upon Latter-day Saints ‘to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice’
The Church’s relationship with the NAACP traces back to 2017, when local Latter-day Saints helped refurbish the NAACP offices in Jackson, Mississippi. In May 2018, the First Presidency and NAACP leaders released a joint statement calling for greater civility and racial harmony. Two months later, the Church announced a historic collaboration between the two organizations and launched a self-reliance initiative. In June 2021, the Church and NAACP announced three education and humanitarian initiatives.
More about the award
The Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel is “the world’s most prominent religious memorial to Morehouse alumnus Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” according to its website.
One of the programs at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel is the Gandhi-King-Ikeda Institute for Cosmopolitan Virtue-Ethics and Reconciliation, founded by the Rev. Carter. Since 2001, this program has recognized and awarded the Gandhi-King-Ikeda Community Builder’s Prize to world leaders for peace including Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Coretta Scott King.
The Gandhi-King-Mandela prize was created this year “to address the national fracture and create more incentive and motivation to talk about peace,” the Rev. Carter said.
At the April event, President Nelson will be honored alongside Ira Helfand, who will be awarded the annual Gandhi-King-Ikeda Community Builder’s Prize. Helfand is the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize and co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.