LAS VEGAS, Nevada
At a moment when many religious liberties are under attack, there is no reason for Latter-day Saints to be afraid.
That was the reassuring message shared by Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles May 6 in a multistake broadcast originating from a Las Vegas meetinghouse. Thirty stakes from Nevada and Arizona participated in the event.
Elder Rasband called the gathering “a call to action” for members and anyone else who values the divine right of religious liberties.
Defending such rights, he added, is a key priority for members of the Quorum of the Twelve. “We talk about religious freedom because it invites the divine gift of moral agency.”
The evening event also included instruction from Elder Von G. Keetch, a General Authority Seventy, and Elder Lance B. Wickman, an Emeritus Seventy. Both Elder Keetch and Elder Wickman are attorneys, with the latter currently serving as the Church’s General Counsel.
Moral agency, taught Elder Rasband, is a defining principle of the plan of happiness. It’s a God-given gift “to choose and to act for ourselves. It empowers us to choose liberty and eternal life through the great Mediator — even Jesus Christ.”
The Quorum of the Twelve has a charge to defend religious liberties. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” for example, is a timeless document offered by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to clarify the Lord’s direction on marriage between a man and a woman, along with His direction on gender roles.
Every member of the Church is being called upon to defend freedom of religion.
“We need you to stand in your own places and look for opportunities to defend these wonderful principles of religious liberties,” he said.
Elder Rasband then offered four suggestions to help Latter-day Saints in their efforts.
1. View others through a lens of fairness.
Remember that Heavenly Father loves all His children equally. While He does not excuse or condone sinful conduct, He does expect His children to lovingly reach out to others to persuade, to help and to rescue.
Such love can help Latter-day Saints make wise decisions in today’s often heated and politically charged environment. Always follow the Savior’s example.
“He never forced anyone to live the way He taught,” said Elder Rasband.
2. Let fairness guide how you treat other people.
When He was teaching His simple truths, Christ looked beyond a person’s ethnicity, rank or place in society.
Again, follow the Lord’s example and “treat people the way you want to be treated,” Elder Rasband said.
3. Stand up for fairness if you see someone else’s rights being impeded.
This can take courage — especially when someone’s beliefs about a controversial subject are different. Allow others the opportunity to practice their religious freedom.
“There is no bigotry in the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; quite the contrary,” said Elder Rasband.
Never forget the history of the Church and the many who “gave their lives to be able to have freedom of conscience.”
4. Be yourself an example of the believers.
“In all we do to protect and defend religious freedom, we need to be, as the Apostle Paul taught, ‘an example of the believers’ in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith and in purity.”
Americans, he added, respect and are drawn to what they believe is good. They will want to protect what they first respect.
The religious freedoms and rights of Latter-day Saints will depend “on our showing our fellow citizens the goodness of the restored gospel in our lives.”
It was Paul who “in far more dangerous times than we are in today” taught that we should never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Defending religious faith, said Elder Keetch, “is truly a group experience.”
He shared the experience of an acquaintance, a man who served his community as a volunteer firefighter.
When a large fire broke out in a section of the man’s town he eagerly reported for duty. His chief ordered him to keep watch on an area where the flames had not yet spread. He was directed to alert his fellow firefighters if the blaze moved to his assigned area — and to fight any flames that erupted in that area with all his might.
The well-intentioned volunteer soon became anxious to offer assistance in the areas where the fire was raging. He left his assigned post “so he could make a difference at the center of the fire.”
When the volunteer eventually returned to his assigned post he found it fully involved in flames. His decision to leave proved tragic.
Similar truths apply in defending religious liberties, said Elder Keetch.
“All we have to do is stand where we are,” he said. Know what’s going on in your community, and don’t feel overwhelmed. The Lord has different roles for different people “to make sure everyone’s rights are protected.”
Elder Wickman spoke of the political and social divisiveness found today in the United States. Contention also defined the days and weeks leading up to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
The delegates’ deliberation and debate were often heated, “but the spirit of the Lord was with them,” said Elder Wickman.
At its core, the Constitution establishes a government dependent upon its citizens. It begins with three essential words: We the people.
Today, too many are eager to hand issues of religious liberties to the courts, Elder Wickman said. But the process of championing religious liberties remains a duty of citizenship.
“It is up to us to defend the Constitution,” he said.
A pair of Mormon attorneys, Hannah Clayson Smith and Alexander Dushku, made an informal presentation offering practical ideas on becoming advocates of religious freedom.
They said people can start by learning more about the issues by visiting religiousfreedom.lds.org. The Church’s website offers timely suggestions on why religious freedom is important, along with several ideas on what folks can do in their own communities.
Sister Smith and Brother Dushku echoed Elder Keetch’s counsel to “stand where you are” and champion religious liberties in schools, neighborhoods and in the workplace.
It’s also essential that parents teach their children about religious freedom. Utilize family home evening and other gatherings to discuss events happening in their own lives.
[email protected] @JNSwensen