Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Ireland
delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Berlin, Germany, May 29-31, 1998
Good morning. I don’t know how you feel at this stage of the conference, but I am overwhelmed at some of the things I have heard here today, and over the weekend. I am overwhelmed with the persecution and the real tough times that people are going through. I just listened to my colleagues here at the table this morning and I am full. I am full with compassion toward our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering in so many different ways.
Now, I would like to pose a question. What is persecution and how does it manifest itself? I would like to spend my time talking about the less violent and less physical methods of persecution that are around in Ireland. I believe that any group or individual who sets out from a position of ignorance, or from an alternative agenda, and seeks to denigrate those of whom he is ignorant, or those who he has targeted, is a persecutor.
I see Paul the Apostle as a great example of a very devout Jew, ignorant of Christianity, who persecutes those of whom he is ignorant. Note the profile of the persecutor here, somebody who believed he was serving God and doing good. He condoned force, and even murder, to stop those he was ignorant of. Only after he was enlightened himself, did he quit from this role of persecutor. Then, at a later stage, he became persecuted himself. Please note also that you don’t have to be wrong to be persecuted.
I would like to just take a couple of moments to let you know where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stands in relation to freedom of choice. We believe that, long before we came on this earth, there was a battle in heaven. This was not a battle of swords and guns, but a battle of words and ideologies. In this battle, there were two sides. Jehovah was on the side of freedom of choice, Lucifer was on the side of compulsion to force the children of God to do what he wanted. Thankfully, the freedom of choice side won, and each one of us here on this earth has won the freedom to make their own choices.
In 1842, Joseph Smith the prophet, the person through whom this church was restored, made this statement,
We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege. Let them worship how, where or what they may.
A news reporter once asked Joseph Smith how he and the church leaders achieved so much unity among so many different nationalities and people from different backgrounds. He answered, “We teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”
When I see the people gathered here this weekend, I think we very much would agree with these principles of freedom of choice, teaching correct principles, and allowing people to govern themselves.
However, freedom of choice carries with it some price. If we want freedom of choice for ourselves, we’ve got to accept the consequences of those choices. We must also respect the choices of others, even when they are wrong, or should I say, especially when they are wrong in our eyes. We must respect people who act differently, and who believe differently. We must respect other cultures, religions, and nationalities.
I quoted Joseph Smith, “We must allow all men to worship Almighty God.” This is part of our articles of faith. The very next article after that is, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.” In a free society, this is very easy, but in a society which is not free, and where you are oppressed, it can be quite a difficult thing. Yet, we have found in our experience, both in Europe and around the world, that to sustain, obey and honor the law of the land in which we live has paid dividends in the long term. We will not knowingly or willfully break the laws of any country, or make little of their wishes.
Recently, I visited Israel, and had an absolutely wonderful experience there. While there, I learned that our church had wanted to build a center for Near Eastern studies, but we met with quite an amount of opposition from the extreme right-wing orthodox Jews. They didn’t want us to build in their land. Yet, over a long period of time, we made friends, and we were able to build a center for Near Eastern studies. We are very thankful to the then Mayor Teddy Kollek, who befriended us and helped us in our quest.
We are concerned about some political developments that have been well documented here over this weekend. There is one that hasn’t been mentioned: General Alexander Lebed, who has gone on record in favor of the expulsion of religious sects from Russia. He has expressed hatred and extreme revulsion of religious sects. We believe it took a sinister turn in a statement he made in June 1996, in which he shocked the Western world by referring to our church, the Mormons, as “scum” and, actually in the same breath, said that, “Suspected criminals should be shot on the street like dogs.” Although General Lebed fell from grace in the following months, he has again become a major political player since becoming the governor of Siberia.
Going back to the non-violent and non-physical forms of persecution, some of the greatest persecution that I see comes from fundamentalists, especially fundamentalist Christians. I know that we are not the only religion to come under attack from these quarters. There are many anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Mormon groups, videos, and pamphlets. These seem to be the masters of dissemination of partly true information. They seem to want to destroy the faith of others, and they do not seem to make any genuine effort at understanding the good that comes from other religions. I’m not against other religions looking for new converts. In fact, I applaud any religion that seeks to spread the Good Word. I believe that each religion should stand on their own merits and doctrines, and not knock the beliefs of others.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has made a point of not reacting to negative and untrue attacks by fundamentalists, including fundamentalist Christians. We will not waste time refuting their anti-material, but remain focused on what we see as the mission of our church. Our bedrock teachings, such as freedom of choice, the atonement, resurrection, the Book of Mormon, and eternal families, are not negotiable. We do not force them on any person, rather we present them to those who wish to listen, and those who do listen are welcome to accept those doctrines, and join our church by baptism through immersion. Those who become disaffected may leave at any time. That is again, freedom of choice.
I think one of the problems that fundamentalist Christians have is that other Christian churches do not fit into their interpretation of the word Christian. We see that there are three different branches, or families, of Christians. There are those Christians who claim that the authority of their church goes right back to Jesus Christ in an unbroken line, for example the Roman Catholic Church. There are the reformed Christians, who feel that there was a falling away with the churches subsequently being reformed. Then there are the restored Christians, which we believe applies to us. We believe that the church is restored now, as it was in early times.
I would like to read a little statement by a prophet at our annual General Conference, which took place just a month ago. He says:
We must and can respect other religions, and must do so. We must recognize the great good they accomplish. We must teach our children to be tolerant and friendly toward those who are not of our faith. We can do work with those of other religions in the defense of those values which have made our civilization great, and our society distinctive. We can and do work with those of other religions in various undertakings in the everlasting fight against social evils which threaten the treasured values which are so important to all of us. These people are not of our faith but they are our friends, neighbors, in a variety of causes. We are pleased to lend our strengths to their efforts.
I am glad to be with you all here at this time. I am grateful for the unity of purpose which I have felt here, and just grateful to be involved in freedom of choice, and freedom of worship, as we seek this for all people.