Unity to Preserve Religious Freedom

There is a story that is familiar to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about a conflict that brewed between two leaders, both men of faith, who were being attacked by their enemies. The first, Captain Moroni, battles the enemy in a distant area and writes to the government leader, Pahoran, for additional support for the army.  His letter goes unanswered, causing him to assume that Pahoran has neglected the army and the cause of freedom.

In time Pahoran responds without taking offense to the accusations in the letter and explains that dissenters, enemies from within, have ousted him from his own leadership position but that he stands, “fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free.”  He calls on Moroni to stand with him to “resist evil . . that we may retain our freedom.”  The two leaders unite their forces and become “exceedingly strong” against the enemies who have driven freedom out of the land. (Book of Mormon story in Alma 59-62.)

When we discussed this story in our seminary class on Monday, we discovered this principle—strength comes in unity. That’s an obvious truth, but we also concluded that these two leaders created unity by overcoming false assumptions of one another and building on their common faith in God. In the end, they saved their country from the bondage of their enemies and preserved religious freedom.

The very next day I saw a modern-day example of religious leaders standing together in unity to preserve religious freedom. Brigham Young University hosted Catholic Cardinal Francis George at a forum assembly on February 23 where he spoke about Catholics and Latter-day Saints as partners in defense of religious freedom. I couldn’t help but see parallels to the principles I just taught and glean additional ideas to bring that unity about in my own communities.

Find Harmony Among Unique Perspectives. “I’m personally grateful that after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see one another as trustworthy partners in the defense of shared moral principles and in the promotion of the common good of our beloved country,” he said. “Of course, partnerships and causes of great moral import build on friendships and gestures of respect for one another’s identity. And these, too, have multiplied in many years . . . Thank God for the harmony that has grown between us.”

To achieve harmony like that requires a certain amount of humility, whether it is between two individuals or two religious groups.

Build on Common Faith in God. “Our churches have different histories and systems of belief and practice, although we acknowledge a common reference point in the person and the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Cardinal George said.

A notable example of this occurred before the forum assembly when a BYU professor and life-time Catholic gave an invocation in keeping with the Catholic prayer tradition. Prior to the prayer, she explained that Catholics pray in communion to raise a single voice of prayer to our Father in Heaven, and then she invited attendees to stand and recite the Lord’s prayer with her. As the camera panned the predominately LDS audience, I could sense a few awkward moments as that unfamiliar tradition unfolded in a place that typically holds to a different one. Then, those familiar words of Christ seemed to ready the crowd with a shared faith in Him.

Work in Unity to Preserve Religious Freedom. “Religious freedom cannot be reduced to the freedom of worship, nor even the freedom of private conscious,” Cardinal George said. “Freedom means that religious groups as well as religious individuals have a right to exercise their influence in the public square and that any attempt to reduce that fuller sense of religious freedom, which has been a part of our history in this country for more than two centuries, to a private reality of worship and individual conscious as long as you don’t make anybody else unhappy is not in our tradition.”

The invitation from LDS Church leaders to Cardinal George to speak at BYU symbolized that unity that is growing between our two religions. Seeing that modern example of unity for religious freedom so soon after teaching the story of Moroni and Pahoran nudged me to follow through on an invitation of my own. This one won’t be church leader to church leader but simply a dinner invitation I’ve neglected making from one family to another.

A report of the address is available at the LDS Newsroom or at the Catholic News Service or you can watch the talk itself at BYU Broadcasting. Photograph of Cardinal George by Jaren Wilkey/BYU, courtesy of LDS Newsroom.

1 Comment

  1. David
    Feb 25, 2010

    Starting in a small way can work a miracle

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *