Sarah Jane Weaver: How a border town and a new temple taught me that building bridges ‘must begin with each of us’

‘In a world with a lot of walls, we need to continue to build bridges,’ said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf while standing at the U.S.-Mexico border

MCALLEN, Texas — One day before dedicating the McAllen Texas Temple on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, walked near the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande River.

Looking at the wall separating the two countries, Elder Uchtdorf solemnly said, “In a world with a lot of walls, we need to continue to build bridges.”

Contemplating that reality, everyone was silent for a few seconds.

His message felt personal, not political. It transcended government policy or political agendas. It echoed the oft-repeated sentiment of other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Simply stated, we strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation,” said Church President Russell M. Nelson, addressing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People national convention July 21, 2019.

Four years later, President Nelson was honored for his efforts to build bridges as he was named the inaugural laureate of the Gandhi-King-Mandela Peace Prize from Morehouse College on April 13, 2023.

On that day, he too made bridge building personal. “If we have any hope of creating the goodwill and sense of humanity for which we all yearn, it must begin with each of us,” he said.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, has asked us to “live together with mutual respect for one another’s differences.”

Speaking to Latter-day Saints in Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 11, 2023, President Oaks emphasized the world would be different “if brotherly and sisterly love and unselfish assistance would transcend all boundaries of nation, creed and color. Such love would not erase all differences of opinion and action, but it would encourage each of us to focus our opposition on actions rather than actors.”

In a world with borders and wars, the task feels large — overwhelmingly large. We all encounter walls and divisions everywhere — amid political parties, social media, and even in our own congregations and families. 

But Primary General President Susan H. Porter said we all have the power to impact change.

During April 2022 general conference, she quoted Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28, noting that the Lord encourages women and men to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them.”

She said, “The power is in us to bring to pass much righteousness,”

Joining the Church News podcast in 2022, Judge Thomas B. Griffith, a former federal judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said no one is better suited to build bridges than Latter-day Saints.

Griffith quoted President Oaks’ April 2021 general conference talk on the Constitution and his direction that “on contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.”

Because we worship and serve in wards with people who are different from us — people we do not choose ourselves — Church members are natural bridge builders, said Griffith. 

“We know how to see somebody who’s different than us and learn to work with them and get along with them,” he said. “Now, can we take that skill that we’ve developed in our wards, in our stakes, and can we take it out to our community? Can we be the ones in our community who are agents of reconciliation?”

We have, he said, a “distinctive and unique role” to play at this moment when the world needs bridge builders.

Amid protests, riots and violence across the United States in late May and early June 2020, President Nelson posted a statement on social media condemning racism and pleading for peace. He said we need to “work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation.

“I plead with us to work together for peace, for mutual respect and for an outpouring of love for all of God’s children,” he wrote.

Few understand walls and borders and war better than Elder Uchtdorf — who was a refugee twice. As a child, with his mother, he fled East Germany for West Germany on foot. 

As he dedicated the McAllen temple, he said temple worship is another reason Latter-day Saints are natural bridge builders.

“Walls and borders separate, but the teachings of the temple unite. When you are in the temple, you are in a place of peace and unity with the Creator of us all,” he said. “The Spirit and your love for one another have no borders. The teachings and blessings of the gospel are universal, regardless of our background or upbringing.”

In a world filled with divisions, the gospel connects and unifies, he said. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is available to all — regardless of language, nationality, ethnicity, cultural background or socioeconomic circumstances.

Simply summarized: The lesson of McAllen is a lesson for all of us.

“The spreading of the restored gospel did not stop at political or social boundaries; it expanded on both sides of the Rio Grande,” he said.

 — Sarah Jane Weaver is the executive editor of the Church News.

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