“My plea today 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 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“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. We must not only protect our ability to profess our own religion, but also protect the right of each religion to administer its own doctrines and laws.”
Elder Cook delivered his remarks as part of the Interfaith Dialogue Panel at the summit, held June 28-29 on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. Subsequent summits will be held in Rome in 2022 and Jerusalem in 2023.
Elder Cook’s remarks followed a keynote address by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. Dr. Jacqueline Rivers of The Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of the Congregation Shearith Israel joined Cardinal Dolan and Elder Cook on the panel.
During his remarks, titled “Tone Deaf to the Music of Faith,” Elder Cook said he is concerned that blessings that flow from “religious impulse are often seen as antithetical to what is valued most in our society.” He highlighted two blessings that “are lost when we are tone deaf to the music of faith.”
- The first is the way religious accountability benefits secular society.
- The second is the multitude of good works that religion inspires people of faith to perform on behalf of others.
Elder Cook noted that Alexis de Tocqueville set forth the role of religion in blessing a secular society in his 1840 classic “Democracy in America.”
“The greatest advantage of religion is to inspire … principles. There is no religion which does not place the object of man’s desire above and beyond the treasure of earth, and which does not naturally raise his soul to regions far above those of the senses,” Tocqueville wrote. “Nor is there any which does not impose on man some sort of duties to his kind, and thus draws him at times from the contemplation of himself.”
Accountability to God “for our relationships with each other is a powerful force for good and strongly supports democracy,” said Elder Cook. “Being accountable sustains and blesses the values that are most important for societal unity.”
Elder Cook also spoke about the multitude of good works that people of faith are inspired to perform on behalf of others. Noting there are far too many contributions faith groups make to society to address them all, he highlighted the joint humanitarian efforts performed by Catholics and Latter-day Saints.
Elder Cook said religions play the essential role of helping to bless people of all races by animating some of the powerful leaders of the abolition and civil rights movements. Elder Cook highlighted the work of William Wilberforce — the principal impetus 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,” Elder Cook said.
Similarly in the early American colonies, many religious groups supported abolitionism or condemned the slave trade, he said.
Elder Cook — a law student at Stanford University when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed — said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero to him. “His commitment to faith was unmistakable. Much of the power of his message was because of the ‘righteous music of faith’ that was felt.”
Some argue “that upholding constitutional principles like religious freedom is adverse to protecting rights of minority groups in society,” said Elder Cook. “That is a false dichotomy.. The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts that divinely inspired principles are contained in the United States Constitution and associated documents.”
Supporting the U.S. Constitution and advocating for strong peaceful efforts to overcome racial and social injustice are not opposites, said Elder Cook. “Eliminating racism at all levels needs to be accomplished. And historically, religious conviction has been one of the great forces in accomplishing that goal.”
Concluding, Elder Cook said his own faith and unequivocal support for religious freedom “is based on the clear principles established in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
“The Church supports the religious freedom of all faiths as well as those with no faith,” he said.
“Many in this room have been valiant in protecting the religiously inspired conduct of those who feel accountable to God. You have been engaged in the fighting in the trenches that has been going on in the United States for some time. You have tried to overcome the societal malady represented by being tone deaf to the music of faith.”
Elder Cook challenged those listening to his remarks “to tack against the prevailing winds of disbelief and division.”
“You will know best how to accomplish this and stand as a beacon of belief and unity in a world that often devalues both.
“It is my personal prayer that we can collectively elevate appreciation of faith in and accountability to God. It is my hope that both by what we teach and by our example we can help re-establish the profound significance of the music of faith.”