According to ChurchofJesusChrist.org, “Religious freedom is more than just the freedom to believe what you want. It’s also the freedom to talk about and act on your core beliefs without interference from government or others, except when necessary to protect health and safety. It also allows people with similar beliefs to form religious organizations that govern their own affairs.”
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in religious freedom. The 11th Article of Faith makes it clear that “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.”
While religious freedom may conjure up images of Mayflower pilgrims or Mormon pioneers, the truth is we have a great example much earlier than that. Jesus Christ is truly our exemplar in all things. Throughout his life, Jesus Christ exemplified tolerance and kindness to those who believed differently without sacrificing the truth he came to bear witness of. He did all he could to pass this understanding on to his disciples.
Here are just a few examples of the way Christ demonstrated his support for the principle of religious freedom and how that applies to us today.
Jesus Christ Refused to Curse Non-Believers
While Christ and his followers prepared to go to Jerusalem, they came upon a village of Samaritans. A messenger was sent to “make ready for him,” but was rejected. When James and John saw the village would not accept Christ, they asked:
“Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?”
Christ rebukes his disciples and tells them he, as the Son of Man, “is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
In our lives today, we often find ourselves angry when someone who doesn’t believe or think as we do rejects us, or worse yet, persecutes us. Christ teaches us to avoid the spirit of contention. Seek an attitude of benevolence and understanding when exercising your right to practice your religion, or when someone else exercises theirs.
Jesus Christ Came to Save, Not to Judge
This experience with the Samaritan village was not the only time Christ made it clear he came to save the world. After his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus contemplated those who would not openly accept him. The gospel of John explains that many of the chief leaders of Jerusalem “believed on him” but they would not confess this fact because they feared the Pharisees would put them out of the synagogues.
The scriptures say Jesus cried as he contemplated his mission to such people:
“And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”
As members of the Church, there are many things we believe in. There are non-members around the world who believe differently than we do. We must take to heart the desire of Jesus Christ not to judge those who “believe not.” We may bear our testimonies, stand by our principles, and proclaim the gospel while respecting and seeking to understand others.
Jesus Christ Teaches a Samaritan Woman
In Biblical times, there existed highly antagonistic feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews used “Samaritan” as a derogatory label towards Christ, asking if he “hast a devil?” The sentiment in the parable of the Good Samaritan must have been especially powerful in this regard.
In his own life, Christ showed compassion to the Samaritans, a group that was not only different from his own but despised in many ways. While traveling through Samaria, Jesus met a “woman of Samaria” and asks for a drink of water from the well. She is surprised by his request, he being a Jew and she a Samaritan. However, she gives him to drink.
Christ uses the opportunity to teach her that in him is “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Through dialogue, the woman is brought to the knowledge that Jesus is the Christ. We are truly a peculiar people and we meet many religions that we may deem peculiar to us. Christ teaches us to spread his message, which is one of love, to all men, through our words and actions.
Jesus Christ Did Not Rebuke Someone Casting Out Demons
One day, the disciples encountered someone casting out demons in the name of Christ. However, this person had not joined with Christ’s followers. The disciples told Jesus they had told him to stop. Christ told them not to forbid people from doing good in his name.
“For there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.”
Many faiths around the world have inspired others to do good. Instead of fighting against one another, we should join together to serve our communities and nations. By building the bonds of friendship, we can help accomplish the work of God.
Jesus Christ Encourages Us Today to Support Religious Freedom
Through living prophets and apostles, we have been asked to support religious freedom. The Church, in an effort to help members around the world understand this responsibility, has created an extensive resource guide with talks, videos, and more. They are encouraging everyone to take a minute and look it over. You can access it here.