The foundations that have historically supported “faith, accountability to God, and the religious impulse” are increasingly being marginalized in a secular world, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on July 26. “They are derided and even banished from the public square,” he said.
Speaking at the Seymour Institute Seminar on Religious Freedom, Elder Cook said, “I am deeply concerned that faith, accountability to God and religious freedom are so often seen as antithetical to our modern secular society.”
Addressing the “remarkable assembly” of African American faith leaders who have spoken out for the protection of families and individuals against a myriad of forces, Elder Cook titled his talk, “Accountability to God — Religious Freedom and Fairness.”
He began his remarks by referencing a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on Aug. 11, 1957, about “conquering self-centeredness.” During the speech King stated: “An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Elder Cook explained that in the sermon King also talked about the help “we receive from other individuals, and by the grace of God.”
“As I read Dr. King’s sermon, I realized how far this country has moved from basic principles relating to faith,” said Elder Cook. “This is also true with respect to family and religious freedom.”
Elder Cook said that Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, has articulated his concern with the diminished role of faith, moral values and religion in our modern era.
“He acknowledged advances in science, technology, democracy, knowledge, life expectancy and affluence,” said Elder Cook. “But they do not answer the three questions every reflective individual asks at some time in his or her life: ‘Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?’ The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.”
Modern Christians “cannot abandon the basic moral high ground that gives meaning to this life and has guided civilizations for centuries,” Elder Cook said.
“In looking at society at large, the teaching and training of the younger generation is a primary responsibility of the family, and of the church,” he said. “We must address the challenge of how to take young people from what I will refer to as the children’s table to the adults’ table.”
“Part of training the rising generation is helping them acquire additional knowledge,” Elder Cook said. “But regardless of how knowledgeable or intellectually accomplished one may be, becoming morally civilized is at the heart of moving to the adult table and is an entirely different matter. Such a move depends on transmission of the serious moral values required in any civilized society.”
These values include “being grateful for the sacrifice and goodness of one’s forebears, being humble about what one does not know, being civil in our relationships with others and trusting in a higher power than one’s self,” he said. “For people who share my beliefs, it means having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his Atonement.”
The dramatic changes that have occurred in the communications world have created unique issues with respect to achieving these important goals, he said. Technology, while it has a tremendous upside, also raises problems.
“I worry that the significant role our Judeo/Christian heritage, various faiths, the humanities and history have played has been significantly diminished,” he said. “Simplified sound bite headlines are provided to the children’s table often without the deep background, moral clarity and analysis that would move them to the moral adults’ table, or even more important, increase their faith.”
Elder Cook said he is concerned that the basic principles and morality the Savior taught are under serious attack in this generation.
Elder Cook spoke of one of his heroes, William Wilberforce, the principal force for the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. “After nearly 50 years of promoting measures that would one day lead to the emancipation of slaves, the goal was accomplished in Great Britain the week before he died, July 29, 1833.
“According to his biographer, William Hague, who recently served as Secretary of State of the United Kingdom, Wilberforce’s great fear was, ‘that religion and morality would go out of the window with political and social stability.’ [He] ‘stands out as a beacon of light, which the passing of two centuries has scarcely dimmed.’”
Elder Cook explained that Latter-day Saints have experienced religious persecution and denial of religious freedom at various times. Speaking of the persecution of early Latter-day Saints in Missouri in the 1830s, Elder Cook said opponents destroyed their crops and some buildings, robbed livestock and personal property, and drove them from their homes. Some early Mormons were tarred and feathered, whipped, or beaten.
When Mormons tried to defend themselves, the governor of Missouri issued an order that the Mormons be “treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state.”
“I am not comparing Latter-day Saint trials with the horrendous slavery experience of African Americans,” Elder Cook emphasized. “But it does allow us to see religious freedom through a somewhat similar lens.”
Persecution taught the early Latter-day Saints the importance of protecting religious liberty and of preserving the dignity of each individual in their own choices, he said.
“In our day, we face both similar and quite different challenges,” he said. “As Latter-day Saints, we continue to advocate both for religious liberty and for the protection of the rights of all men and women, but new areas of disagreement have emerged.”
Over the past few years, for example, LDS Church leaders have carefully considered how to balance religious liberty and the proper protection of LGBT individuals. At the same time, LDS theology of the sacred and eternal role of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, has not changed.
“We call this approach Fairness for All. Even when the issues are complex and emotionally charged, we believe that productive dialogue is possible when all involved acknowledge that the other’s freedoms deserve protection,” said Elder Cook. “That recognition allows us to build trust in the face of our differences: all involved can consider compromise over non-essential areas when they are confident that both sides are committed to protecting what is essential. Fairness for All thus recognizes the essential role of protecting core religious freedoms and core LGBT freedoms with dignity for everyone.”
A robust pluralism is still the best model for reasonably accommodating everyone’s needs in a diverse society, said Elder Cook. “Everyone should be respected for who they are and afforded the freedom to live openly and with dignity according to their core beliefs, whether religious or secular. Government influence should never be used to pressure religious institutions or individuals to back down on core beliefs.”
Elder Cook emphasized that in advocating for “fairness for all,” he is not talking about the compromise of core doctrinal beliefs.
“Traditional religious views on marriage and human sexuality are not only core beliefs for us and many others, but also part of the range of perspectives our country needs as it moves forward,” he said.
People of faith should feel a call to enter the public square together, said Elder Cook. “Our great nation is facing a crisis of justice and morality, and we must work together to advocate for foundational principles that will make for a more just and righteous United States. In an era when so many strive to be authentic to their own feelings, we must strive to be sincere before our God. Anybody who espouses moral values will be frequently mocked. Nevertheless, we should continue our ongoing and critical efforts to increase morality and protect families.”