Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: ‘Faith, Family and Religious Freedom’

Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: IRI
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby
Credit: Alan Gibby


Whatever their doctrinal differences, Christians need to work together in addressing society’s ills, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared Feb. 26 to a faith-based audience at Chapman University, an institution founded in 1861 by members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Elder Holland was the featured speaker at the 10th anniversary celebration of the university’s Fish Interfaith Center, addressing the topic “Faith, Family and Religious Freedom.” He delivered an address 10 years ago when the interfaith center was launched.

“Whatever our religious affiliation, we all share concerns, dozens about the spread of pornography and the spread of poverty, of abuse and abortion, of illicit sexual transgression, of violence, crudity, cruelty and temptation,” Elder Holland said.

“Indeed, the longer I live the more convinced I am that as Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of faith, we play into the devil’s hand to let lesser differences obscure chances for greater unity, to let animosity canker our inherent divine brotherhood and sisterhood, and we let sectarian tradition destroy our collective desire to go about ‘doing good’ ” (Acts 10:38).

He added, “In that spirit I wish tonight to touch on three commonly held values — beliefs, if you will — that are at some risk as we progress into the 21st century.” Identifying them as faith, family and religious freedom, he said they are not necessarily new issues but they are under fire in new ways.

Elder Holland spoke of secularism in today’s society, a shift away from widespread belief in God to “a climate for popularizing the diminution or at least the minimizing of religious faith in a way that is unprecedented in Western culture, or certainly in American culture.”

Such a cultural shift of our day is characterized by less and less affiliation with organized or institutional religion, Elder Holland observed.

“Now in the face of such waning religiosity, or at the very least waning religious affiliation, all of us, thus our interfaith theme tonight, must be ever more effective in making the persuasive case for why both religious belief and institutional identity are more relevant than ever and deserve continued consideration and privilege within our society,” he said. “Such appeals, however, will be met with increasingly sophisticated arguments, including from some in the legal profession.”

Citing one legal scholar, who argued that democracies are wrong to single out religious liberty for special legal protections, Elder Holland noted that the scholar does make a considerable case for “ ‘freedom of conscience,’ which for us is half-a-loaf — a very important half — but his argument does, in the end, undercut institutional protections that have been important in the past and may be even more important in the multi-cultural future of this country.”

Turning to the subject of family, Elder Holland cited statistics that worldwide there are 40 million abortions per year and that 41 percent of all births in the United States are to women not married.

“We should be declaring boldly that inherent in the very act of creation is, for both parents, a lifelong commitment to and responsibility for the child they created. No one can with impunity terminate that life, neglect that care, nor shirk that responsibility.”

Citing Paul’s statement that anyone who provides not for his family is “worse than an infidel,” Elder Holland said that such provision means more than providing physical nourishment, “as essential as that is.”

“If we want democracy to work and society to be stable, parents must nourish a child’s mind and heart and spirit as well as well as its body. Generally speaking, no community of whatever size or definition has enough resources in time, money or will to make up for what does not happen at home in a family circle.”

He added, “So rather than redefining marriage and family, as we see increasing numbers around us trying to do, our age ought to be reinforcing and exalting that which has been the backbone of civilization since the dawn of it.”

Pertaining to the third subject of his talk, religious freedom, Elder Holland asked, “Does religious freedom and its open expression matter beyond one’s own individual faith or his particular or her particular religious persuasion?”

In response to that question, he shared an anecdote from his friend and fellow Latter-day Saint, Clayton Christensen, distinguished professor at the Harvard Business School and highly sought-after consultant in the business world.

Brother Christensen said that in a conversation he had with a Marxist economist from China who was nearing the end of an academic fellowship in Boston, Massachusetts, the man said he had “no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy and capitalism.”

The economist observed that in the past, most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week, where they were taught from an early age that they should obey the law, respect other people’s property and not steal it, and never to lie.

“Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that even if the police didn’t catch them when they broke a law, God would catch them. Democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily obey your laws.”

He quoted a Chinese blogger on the Internet who observed that the secret of America’s constitutional democracy is a “natural law guarded by a grand justice” and “a community of Christians, or other religious believers, united by that belief.”

“Of course,” Elder Holland added, “America is much more than a ‘community of Christians,’ we’re more than that here tonight, but it may be sufficient to note that someone in China sees enough evidence or knows enough history to believe that this country still has a strong streak of Christian religious belief in her. We hope so. We pray so.”

Yet there are threats to religious freedom “that are new to our history and [new] to our tradition,” Elder Holland said, quoting Catholic Cardinal Francis George from a recent address at Brigham Young University.

“Chapman’s own Hugh Hewitt described one of these threats: ‘For three decades people of faith have watched a systematic and very effective effort waged in the courts and the media to drive them from the public square and to delegitimize their participation in politics as somehow threatening.’ ”

Elder Holland declared, “To counter these trends every citizen should insist on his or her Constitutional right to exercise one’s belief and to voice one’s conscience on issues not only in the privacy of the home or the sanctity of the pulpit but also in the public square, in the ballot box and in the halls of justice. These are the rights of all citizens, including people, leaders and organizations who have religious beliefs. Such a group of people, leaders and organizations seem to me a perfect cluster for interfaith influence and interfaith activity. They must not be disenfranchised whatever our individual religious affiliation.”

As part of the celebration at the Interfaith Center, Elder Holland presented a first-edition 1830 copy of the Book of Mormon for long-term loan to the center, where it will be displayed.

In thanking Chapman University for accepting and displaying the book, Elder Holland noted that it is an important part of the Restoration of the gospel of Christ.

The Interfaith Center already displays several historic Chapman family Bibles as well as a historic Jewish Torah.

This rare original volume of the Book of Mormon is owned and loaned by Steve and Debbie Smith, and Kurt and Kimberly Wheeler.

A cabinet for its display has been commissioned to be built by artist William Tunberg, who has designed and built many of the art pieces and furnishings already in the Fish Interfaith Center. It will be built as a wood-inlay cabinet, called “marquetry”, and will have LDS symbolism incorporated in it.

For Elder Holland’s address, the Memorial Hall was filled with 960 guests, and 250 more viewed the broadcast in the Wallace All Faiths Chapel while another 50 or 60 sat in the patio area listening outside the Interfaith Center.

In attendance were religious leaders and political leaders from many parts of Orange County.

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