With conversation focused on the value of faith and religious freedom, three senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met with U.S. Vice President Michael R. Pence Thursday morning, Aug. 22, at a Salt Lake City hotel.
Representing the Church were President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Ronald A. Rasband, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church Communication Department.
“We did have a very nice visit and talked about some of those things he had interest in, and we were able to share some of the things that we’re concerned about,” said President Ballard, calling it “an honor to meet a great man who is doing his best to represent the office of vice president of the United States.”
President Ballard, Elder Rasband and Elder Gerard recounted highlights following the morning meeting as they spoke to media representatives afterwards in the Grand America Hotel courtyard.
With Pence known for his Christian beliefs and promotion of faith and prayer, a good share of their talk centered on religious freedom, President Ballard noted. They discussed those of faith having the right to believe and speak openly in the public square of the beliefs they hold and treasure as important.
“Of course, he was very much in favor of doing all we can to keep these freedoms available for people of faith, regardless of what their faith might be.”
Added Elder Rasband: “The vice president used this little trilogy — he said, ‘Faith, family and freedom.’ And that’s going to go over really well in Utah here today.”
Pence said the three were important for both him and for President Trump, recalled Elder Rasband, underscoring the shared importance for the Church as well.
Responding to a question of how the issue of religious freedom transcends politics and political parties, President Ballard cited the assignment of the apostleship — “that we can go anywhere in the world, and we can witness and testify what we believe to be true, and not be persecuted or threatened because of our position, our deep position that we have, that Jesus is the Savior and the Redeemer of all mankind.
“That’s a freedom that we have to fight for,” he continued. “And we tried to discuss that. I think the vice president is very much interested in the same thing; he’s very deeply committed in his religious beliefs and feels like everybody ought to have the same opportunity, regardless of what religion they may be a member of.”
Elder Rasband said people of faith can encourage an increase in religious freedoms by being more vocal about the issue, whether it be publicly or through a social media presence.
“We have to invite our members to be part of a chorus of believers and not just soloists,” he said. “We do much better if we join with our friends of other faiths and we speak together on these issues.
“And that’s a very important issue for us — it’s not just me, it’s not just The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s all believers in general, speaking together about the importance of protecting freedom of conscience in the public square.”
Elder Rasband said the cooperative efforts he is seeing are encouraging, ranging from interfaith efforts in Utah and throughout the United States to President Russell M. Nelson and President Ballard meeting at the Vatican with Pope Francis earlier this year.
“We are putting the things that we disagree on aside right now,” Elder Rasband said. “And we’re lining up on the things we can agree on. And those issues are much more powerful and meaningful if we do it together.”
While the conversation didn’t expand to religious freedoms globally because of lack of time, President Ballard said they spoke of the Church’s broad expanse of interests worldwide “and that we have missionaries scattered all over the world trying to share with the world our beliefs.”
Nor was immigration specifically discussed, although they spoke about “the need for us to continue in our humanitarian efforts, particularly from a refugee perspective, with the great work that the Church has done,” President Ballard said.
Elder Gerard said the vice president “was very cognizant of it and expressed appreciation for what he described as a significant footprint around the world where we continue to try to assist our Father in Heaven’s children in every way we can.”
One foreign nation earning a mention during the morning meeting was Venezuela and the suffering from the political and socioeconomic crises there.
“He has a great, deep concern about what is happening in Venezuela,” said President Ballard of Pence while acknowledging the Church’s own membership and ongoing humanitarian efforts there, particularly in helping overcome food scarcity.
“You could sense as he was talking to us about what is happening there that his heart hurts to see the people hurting so terribly in Venezuela — that was heavily on his mind, and I think he was pleased to know the things that we’re doing as a Church to try and alleviate some of the pain that’s going on down there.”
Elder Gerard said President Ballard and Pence also spoke of “the rising generation, and as we look across the country, how we promote civility and grow faith.” The two, he added, “had a very good conversation about that, of course, the vice president being a man of great faith, but it also concerned more broadly about how we bring civility to society.”
Given Pence’s faith and penchant for prayer, was the morning meeting merely a conversation among the men, or did it include some divine supplication? “We told him we’ll pray for him,” President Ballard said. “And he seemed to appreciate that.”
The vice president arrived in Salt Lake City Wednesday evening, Aug. 21, and was to tour and speak later at Merit Medical, a local manufacturer and marketer of disposable medical devices.
Pence previously visited Salt Lake City in September 2016, then as the running mate to presidential candidate Donald Trump. At the time, he was escorted on a tour of Temple Square by then-Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.