Despite the religious persecution experienced by many faith traditions, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these groups share a commitment to caring for those in need.
“When religion is given the freedom to flourish,” Elder Ronald A. Rasband said, “believers everywhere perform simple and sometimes heroic acts of service.”
Elder Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about the global reach of humanitarian and service efforts of the Church and other religious organizations, and how religious freedom enables that aid, at a G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, on Monday, Sept. 13.
G20 is an international forum that brings together the world’s major economies. This forum has met every year since 1999 and has held an annual Summit since 2008. The G20 Interfaith Forum has convened each year since 2014 and, according to its website, g20interfaith.org, “offers an annual platform where a network of religiously linked institutions and initiatives engage on global agendas … .”
“Throughout history, people of faith have suffered mightily at the hands of others,” Elder Rasband said in his forum address Monday morning.
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Ever since Joseph Smith received the First Vision in the spring of 1820 and translated an ancient record of prophetic writings known as the Book of Mormon, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also suffered religious persecution.
“In Joseph’s day many people seeking God were drawn to the unique teachings of this new religion,” Elder Rasband said. “Others did not. Opposition, persecution and violence quickly followed Joseph and his followers.”
Church members were killed, robbed, violated and driven thousands of miles. They fled from New York to Ohio to Missouri, where the governor issued an execution order. Then Latter-day Saints fled to Quincy, Illinois, where its 1,500 residents took in 5,000 refugees, giving them shelter, food, clothing and jobs.
During this time, Joseph Smith published the 13 Articles of Faith — tenets of the growing Church — including, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may” (Articles of Faith 1:11).
Joseph Smith’s ministry was short, Elder Rasband said. In 1844, he was killed while being held on false charges in a jail in Carthage, Illinois, when a mob of about 200 men stormed the building and martyred him and his brother Hyrum Smith.
“Enemies thought striking down Joseph would kill the Church,” Elder Rasband said. “But the faithful carried on.”
Brigham Young led thousands of Church members — religious refugees — 1,300 miles west to what is now Utah.
“From those days of intense persecution, our Church has grown steadily to some 17 million believers, half of them living outside the United States,” Elder Rasband said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like many other religious organizations represented at the G20 forum, has a commitment to God and charity. “True religion prompts us to help those in need,” Elder Rasband said.
Just this year, the Church partnered with other nonprofit organizations in 160 countries. This includes significant contributions to COVAX, a global effort to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines. In the same timeframe, the Church has delivered more than 26 million meals to feed the hungry and carried out 294 projects for refugees in 50 countries, “helping with shelter, health support and refugee resettlement.”
“Religious belief and practice are excellent predictors of service,” Elder Rasband said. He listed several religious nonprofit organizations that “carry out essential relief efforts and social services to tens of millions of people.”
“The ancient Jewish phrase tikkun olam, meaning to repair or heal the world, is reflected in the efforts of so many faith traditions,” he said.
As each religious organization goes about doing good, “we contribute to the growth and stability of diverse countries,” Elder Rasband said. He cited a 2016 study by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, which reported that “religion contributes about $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy.”
“If that is the impact of faith in America, imagine what faith can do across the entire globe,” Elder Rasband said. “That’s why protecting all faiths, even small, minority faiths, like we were and like we are, is critical. When people feel confident that their beliefs will always be protected, they will reach out to others in significant ways.”
Robust religious freedom correlates with other vital human rights, he said.
“The good of religion, the reach of religion and the heroic acts of love which religion inspires only multiply when we protect religious freedom.”
Elder Rasband expressed his hope that the universal goodness prompted by faith traditions will be honored and admired. “People around the world are blessed as we lift and encourage others through lifesaving aid. May we be grateful for the opportunity to make a difference.”