NEW YORK CITY — Following meetings with religious leaders in New York City, and after participating in an event recognizing the contributions of former United States Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Elder Quentin L. Cook asked a diverse group gathered at the historic Riverside Church to protect faith.
“My plea this evening is that all religions work together to defend faith and religious freedom in a manner that protects people of diverse faith as well as those of no faith,” said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Catholics, evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Latter-day Saints and other faiths must be part of a coalition of faiths that succor, act as a sanctuary and promulgate religious freedom across the world.”
Speaking at the 2022 New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association dinner, Elder Cook addressed New York and New Jersey religious, government and opinion leaders. The professional association is a nonprofit organization that exists to unite local professionals who are affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others who share common values. Elder David L. Buckner, an Area Seventy in New York City, conducted the meeting.
The group honored Lieberman, who represented Connecticut in the Senate from 1989 to 2013, with their Visionary Leadership Award.
Elder Gordon H. Smith, an Area Seventy and a former U.S. senator, introduced Lieberman, a Democrat who also worked as an independent, as “his former colleague and forever friend.”
Elder Smith, a Republican, spoke of their time together in the Senate. “It was my experience in looking at 99 colleagues, there tended to be three categories of us. There were noisemakers, there were deal-makers, and there were peacemakers that were there to solve problems and get things right for the American people.”
Lieberman, he added, was always among the peacemakers.
“Joe Lieberman had allegiances that were greater than to his own popularity, to his God,” he said.
The ‘righteous route’
Elder Cook said he has admired Lieberman — a former U.S. vice presidential candidate who attended Thursday’s event with his wife, Hadassah Lieberman — for a long time. “He is a man of faith and character, honest and exemplary in his conduct and exceptionally capable.”
In a world where there is much dissension, some choose roads because of political associations. It is wonderful to see somebody who “has tried to choose the good road, the righteous route, the road that is the one that should be traveled. So we are grateful, Sen. Lieberman, that you have always attempted to do that.”
Elder Cook’s association with Lieberman dates back more than a decade. He was with Lieberman when the senator spoke at Brigham Young University on Oct. 25, 2011, highlighting the American values essential to the founding of this country.
One statement from Lieberman’s talk at BYU has special relevance today, said Elder Cook: “Faith in God, love of country, sense of unity, and confidence in the power of every individual — these are things that have carried the American people through crises greater than the ones we face today and will, I am sure, propel us forward to a better place if only we will return to those values and recognize them as a source of national strength. I hope the presence of faith in the public square will let us do that.”
Five years later, Elder Cook and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were part of a Jewish and Latter-day Saint delegation that traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Elder Orson Hyde’s 1841 prayer dedicating the Holy Land as a gathering place for the Jewish people. Former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams, who attended the professional association’s event on Thursday night, was the “impetus, inspiration and guiding force” for the visit to Jerusalem.
During a quiet moment on that trip, Lieberman, Abrams, Elder Holland and Elder Cook had the “solemn opportunity” of placing a wreath on the special Jerusalem memorial dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. “It was a deeply emotional experience for me — one I will never forget,” recalled Elder Cook. “Many of you have close personal ties to the victims of the Holocaust. … It is my prayer that the world will never forget the Holocaust atrocity.”
In accepting the award, Lieberman, who is Jewish, said he is sure there are some unfriendly, even dishonorable, Latter-day Saints. “But I have not met them,” he said.
“In my life, and I am now a happy and healthy senior citizen, one of the great transformations that I’ve seen occur is in the relationship between Christians and Jews — the breaking down of walls of suspicion.” That has been especially true with the Latter-day Saint and Jewish American communities, who share a warm, deep and meaningful relationship, he said.
Offering remarks on the interplay between religious and public policy, Lieberman noted that the United States is a nation founded by people of faith. For example, after reaching Plymouth Rock in 1620, William Brewster offered the prayer of thanksgiving recorded in Psalms 100.
“Our history has been a journey to realize, generation to generation, the ideals and promises of our founding generation,” Lieberman said.
He noted that he grew up with great optimism for the United States — where he never felt like he had to “homogenize yourself or assimilate yourself or hide who you are, including your religious faith, just to be successful.”
Lieberman said the greatest source of America’s strength and optimism is not in the divide of politics in Washington. “It is in the broadly shared faith and values of the American people, and the sense of unity and common action so many of us derive from the direction we find, the guidance and values we find, in our respective houses of worship.”
Before participating in the New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association event, Elder Cook met with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, and other leaders from the Commission of Religious Leaders of New York — including Imam Tahir Kukaj, a Muslim scholar and chaplain for the New York City Police Department, and Rev. Que English, director of the Partnership Center of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He was joined by his wife, Sister Mary Cook; Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Presidency of the Seventy; and Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy.
Elder Cook said it is important for people of faith to work together to promote faith in the public square. “Those who feel accountable to God, feel accountable to their neighbors, they feel accountable for their conduct, they feel like they are going to have to account for what they do in this life,” he said.
Feeling accountable to God — and not just a mere electorate or a business or friends — is powerful, he added. “That has blessed this country in immeasurable ways.”
Those who feel accountable to God “have a responsibility to join efforts with others who have different faiths, different understandings of Deity,” he said. “They need to succor and bless and watch out for people as a whole, and work together in order to protect religious freedom and particularly to protect it in the public square. And not just for the benefit of religion but for everybody. Because if you have that as the foundation, then you are going to do things for your neighbor, then you are going to do things for the good of everyone.”