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Elder Gong shares how religious liberty is seen in the Church’s doctrine, history and global experience, during 2022 Church History Symposium


Commitment to religious liberty is deeply rooted in the doctrine, history and global experience of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the concluding keynote address of the 2022 Church History Symposium

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, was also in attendance at the concluding session on Friday, March 11, in the Church Office Building auditorium. “Latter-day Saints and Religious Liberty: Historical and Global Perspectives” was the theme of this year’s two-day symposium, sponsored by the Church History Department and BYU’s Religious Education and Department of Church History and Doctrine. 

Elder Gong shared three main conclusions: 

  • First, “when seen in historical and global perspective, Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty is rooted in our core religious doctrine — fundamental to God’s plan.” 
  • Second, “religious liberty is manifest in our lived experience, religious practice, and statements of belief and practice from the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith to Church presidents and leaders today.”
  • Third, “Latter-day Saint commitment to religious liberty is a practical reality and desire as faithful Church members seek to honor, obey and sustain the law and contribute as good parents and good citizens in our communities and countries across the world.”

His presentation also included several video vignettes from Alexander Dushku, ­­­­­­an attorney who focuses on religious liberty issues for the Church; Matt Grow, the Church History Department’s managing director; Kate Holbrook, academic collaborations director for the Church History Department; Bill Atkin, Church associate general counsel; and Robert Smith, BYU professor of Church history and doctrine.

Religious liberty in restoration scripture

“While principles of religious freedom are found in the Bible, doctrinal and practical concerns for religious liberty are interwoven in fundamental ways in restoration scripture,” Elder Gong said.

From the beginning of the Restoration, the young Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God and received the revelations which became the Doctrine of Covenants. The Prophet Joseph was taught and mentored by the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni. “Moroni had lived, directly and vicariously, through the rise and fall of civilizations, where religious liberty was a central issue,” Elder Gong said.

“In some ways, history was about to repeat itself: the Prophet Joseph and his people would experience similar poignant demands for faith and sacrifice, perhaps prepared and fortified by what the young Prophet Joseph was learning from Moroni and the Book of Mormon about the need for religious liberty,” Elder Gong said. 

Likewise, Elder Gong noted, religious liberty is a key theme in the Doctrine and Covenants, including in sections 98, 101, 109 and 134.

Read more from the Church History Symposium: Panel discusses defending religious liberty as both a Church member and citizen, and in societies around the world

Religious liberty in Church history

“We find inspiration in our history and believe that because of our own experiences, Latter-day Saints have a special duty to speak on behalf of religious liberty for all groups,” Elder Gong said. 

He cited statements from the Prophet Joseph Smith calling for religious liberty for all that Elder David A. Bednar and he shared at their recent BYU presentation on “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Understanding One Another.” 

These included an 1841 Nauvoo, Illinois, city ordinance which specified religious freedom for all. The Prophet Joseph also made religious freedom an important plank in his U.S. presidential campaign. 

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the Church History Symposium at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 11, 2022.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the Church History Symposium at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 11, 2022.

Credit: Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Worldwide religious liberty concerns

“Religious liberty is a natural global desire as Latter-day Saint members seek to honor, obey and sustain the law and contribute to our societies and communities in nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples across the world,” Elder Gong said. 

For example, when Elder Gong spoke at the 2019 G20 Interfaith Forum in Osaka, Japan, he said he tried to frame ways religious communities and values can contribute to policies that lift countries and communities in global settings. 

Elder Gong also encouraged the audience to study carefully President Oaks’ recent remarks on religious liberty at the University of Virginia 2021 Joseph Smith Lecture on Nov. 12, 2021, and on Dec. 14, 2021, in a speech at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, on “Religious Freedom in an International Context.” In his speeches, President Oaks also referenced remarks by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Religious Liberty Summit at Notre Dame University, and by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at a South America religious liberty forum.

What can members do?

In one of the video vignettes, Robert Smith, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, said, “People are eager to help support religious freedom and moral values, but don’t know what to do.” He had three suggestions, First, become educated on the issues, including studying the resources on the Church’s website. Second, engage in conversations to find solutions to issues and “not be afraid to speak our minds.” Third, “to lift where you stand” at school, work or on social media, Smith said. 

“How grateful we are for the ways religious liberty benefits societies, families and individuals,” Elder Gong concluded. “Especially when understood in doctrinal, historical and global perspective, we recognize why members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have and will consistently seek to support, preserve and advance religious liberty in appropriate times and ways, now and for future generations.”

Several sessions from the 2022 Church History Symposium are available via the BYU Religious Studies Center website at rsc.byu.edu/conferences/church-history.

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