“Religious freedom is a marker for other freedoms in society that temper the natural impulses that are counter to a prosperous, thriving and progressing society,” said an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Ruth Lybbert Renlund, spoke at an international religious freedom symposium in Costa Rica, June 9, 2017. They presented their comments together from his perspective as an apostle and doctor of cardiology and heart transplantation and her background as a civil litigation attorney.
“Religion and religious freedom are not only good for an individual but also benefit society,” explained Ruth Renlund. “The benefit to the individual is clear through the exercise of an individual’s moral agency — the ability to choose to believe and act according to the dictates of conscience.”
Elder Renlund’s years of medical research were devoted to how a person’s body handles a transplanted heart. He said medicines are used to suppress the body’s immune system to trick the human body into not doing something it is programmed to do. “Many of my former patients send me thank you notes on the 25th anniversary of their heart transplant,” he said. “For these patients, immunological tolerance has allowed them to accept a foreign tissue as if it were self.”
Furthering her husband’s medical comparison to religious beliefs, Sister Renlund said when the body’s response to a transplant is compared to society’s response to accepting people who have different beliefs, “history has shown the natural response of people is to ostracize and reject those they identify as being different than they. These negative interactions begin with groups defining themselves as ‘us’ and classifying those outside of their group as ‘them.’”
“Religious beliefs, teachings and practices bring needed medicine to a society that would otherwise be aggressive and sick,” Elder Renlund remarked. He said religion provides three valuable medicines. The first is the concept of an authority higher than self; second, a code of moral conduct; and third, the notion that aspects of the moral code can change the hearts of individuals so that they act with selflessness.
Sister Renlund added that a code of moral conduct is strong medicine for today’s societies. “A truly civilized, well-functioning society depends on an accepted code of moral conduct that is based on a belief system that teaches that there is something greater than self.”
Whether one believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, much can be learned from what He taught while on the earth two millennia ago. Love, compassion and empathy characterize His ministry. Elder Renlund pointed out, “He did not disdainfully walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, flinching at the sight of those who did not follow His teachings. He did not dodge them in abject horror. No, He ate with them. He helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy.”
The Golden Rule found in the Holy Bible — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — is not an exclusive Christian principle. Similar principles of this moral code is shared in writings from Confucius, Mohammed and in the Hindu and Jewish traditions.
Sister Renlund quoted the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith: “I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle, which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.”
The Renlunds said there is a lot everyone can do to help society be more civil and selfless.
- We contribute to societal tolerance when our discourse is civil and we reject hate speech.
- We contribute when we stand up for another’s right to worship.
- We contribute when we reject demonizing whole religions because of the actions of a few.
- We contribute when we reject xenophobia.
- We contribute when we do not judge others based solely on outward characteristics.
Elder Renlund said he was bullied and picked on as a teenager in 1960s Europe because he was American and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Some of my schoolmates treated me as though my religion were an affront to the nations in which I lived because it differed from state-sponsored religion.”
The Mormon apostle said he has witnessed the ugliness of prejudice and discrimination suffered by those trying to practice their faith. “Because of these first-hand experiences, I believe that ridicule, harassment, bullying, exclusion and isolation, and hatred toward others is repugnant.” And, he concluded, “It is not pleasing to the God I love and worship.”