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President Oaks Offers Powerful Solution to National Divisions

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Although current divisions among the religious and secular in the United States are distressing and complex, President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency is advocating a better approach to current conflicts.

Delivering the University of Virginia’s 2021 Joseph Smith Lecture on religious liberty on Friday night, the Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and First Counselor in the First Presidency said that “we now need a new, workable balance between religious freedom and non-discrimination.” He pointed believers to a “better way” by stressing the Christ-centered virtues of loving, listening, respecting, negotiating, persuading, balancing, tolerating, cooperating, reconciling, accommodating — any peaceful means that focus on the common good and “resolve differences without compromising core values.”

“We should accept the reality that we are fellow citizens who need each other,” President Oaks said.

Instead of depending on litigating issues in courts where winners are proclaimed and losers are shamed, he proposed that religious leaders and associations should more often come together and approach adversaries through legislation and other efforts to “seek peaceful resolution of painful conflicts between religious freedom and non-discrimination.”

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Such an approach among believers of different denominations, he said, does not require an analysis of doctrinal differences or a deep dive into the particulars of belief.

“All that is necessary for unity and a broad coalition to promote our common need for religious freedom,” he said, “is our shared conviction that God has commanded us to love one another, including our neighbors with different beliefs and cultures. This invites all believers, as President Russell M. Nelson has challenged our members, to ‘expand our circle of love to embrace the whole human family.’”

President Oaks said we should avoid being “unduly influenced” by extreme voices because “they polarize and sow resentment” in their quest for zero-sum victories. “Such outcomes are rarely sustainable or even attainable, and they are never preferable to living together in mutual understanding and peace.”

President Oaks also said we should not let fear of the potential loss of some of our own freedoms blind us to the freedoms of others.

“Let us unite with those who advocate non-discrimination to seek a culture and laws that respect the rights of all to the equal protection of the law and the right to the free exercise of religion,” he said. “The right relationship between religious freedom and non-discrimination is best achieved by respecting each other enough to negotiate in good faith and by caring for each other enough that the freedom and protection we seek is not for ourselves alone. I pray for that result under our inspired [United States] Constitution, as we pledge to be ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”

Watch the entire lecture below.

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