A global pandemic. Faltering economies. General unrest. A fear of being “canceled” for speaking one’s mind. Much of the modern world is in the midst of one or more of these crises. Each tests the fabric of society. How does one safely navigate through the nettles of such sharp differences without losing hope?
Elder Ulisses Soares, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told those gathered digitally on day one of the Dallas–Fort Worth Summit for Religious Freedom that valuing the dignity of every soul is key.
“The concept of human dignity may vary from culture to culture, but it acts as a constant amid a volatile and changing world,” Elder Soares said from a recording studio on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. “Human rights smooth out the imbalances of privilege, wealth, and opportunity. And those rights must be universally applied. Otherwise, justice becomes reduced to who is in power at the moment. … In all times and in all places, every person matters.”
He pointed to his home country of Brazil as an example of successfully managing the difficulties of difference. “While undergoing a dynamic shift over the years from Roman Catholicism to Pentecostal, Protestant and other churches, the population has managed to avoid broad sectarian conflict,” the Apostle said. Research shows no reported incidents of hostility connected to this South American country’s state of religious flux. “Though far from perfect, tension has been managed through dialogue between the various religious communities,” Elder Soares said.
Instead of giving in to the demons of division, the Apostle proposed the simple solution of mutual respect.
“Let’s not feel so threatened by a difference of opinion,” he said. “Let us instead respect the sincerely held beliefs of our neighbors, and by doing so, you may find your own beliefs strengthened. Something as simple as speech and words can have a decisive effect on the health of civilization. We need to learn to both not give offense and not take offense. It is significant that countries with more religious freedom have more peace. And countries with less religious freedom have less peace.”
Words, Elder Soares said, will not be enough. They must be coupled by mutual altruism and selfless service. Religion, he reminded the audience, provides the “networks and social ties that make this possible.” He pointed to a time in 2017 when Latter-day Saints in Bellevue, Washington, offered their chapel to local Muslim friends whose mosque was destroyed by fire. A local Latter-day Saint explained the kindness as “just neighbors helping neighbors,” just as Jesus asked them to do.
“We never feel so loved or connected to the world than when we help those in trouble or receive help in time of great need,” Elder Soares said. “A lot of small actions like [what our Church members did in Washington] add up to build social trust, strengthen friendship among society and ensure that we defend each other’s religious freedom.”
Read the full talk, titled “Foundations and Fruits of Religious Freedom.”