As you know, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held an important news conference yesterday to explain and reaffirm the Church's views on religious freedom.
This news conference comes in light of recent actions by the church, including the following:
- Excommunicating faithful church members who question LDS practice or beliefs in light of scripture
- Seeking to silence religious expression by demanding that books, blogs, and public speech be curtailed or eliminated
- Threatening to excommunicate minor children due to their parents' beliefs
- Insisting on the right to control private family religious observance in the home
- Excommunicating faithful members for simply asking questions and requesting the prophets go to the Lord for answers
- Labeling unorthodox thinkers as "apostate" and warning other church members not to associate with or listen to such people
- Threatening to excommunicate those who advocate for the rights of gays, women, dissenters, scholars, and other Mormon minorities
This is a wonderful development!
Here are their words, cut and pasted directly from the official transcript (emphasis mine):
Elder D. Todd Christofferson:
"To those who follow the Church closely and who are familiar with its teachings and positions on various social issues, it will be apparent that we are announcing no change in doctrine or Church teachings today. But we are suggesting a way forward in which those with different views on these complex issues can together seek for solutions that will be fair to everyone."
Sister Neill Marriott:
"My name is Neill Marriott and I’m pleased to be here today with Elders Christofferson, Oaks and Holland on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to share our views on the ongoing discussion of religious freedom. While we speak primarily to an American public, we include our own members who number 15 million worldwide, many of whom reside in other nations wrestling with the same issues we face here in the United States.
"This nation is engaged in a great debate about marriage, family, individual conscience and collective rights and the place of religious freedom in our society. The eventual outcome of this debate will influence to a large extent whether millions of people with diverse backgrounds and different views and values will live together in relative harmony for the foreseeable future.
"In any democratic society, differences often lead to tensions. Such tensions are not to be feared unless they become so extreme that they threaten to tear apart the very fabric of society. While that's happened sometimes in our history, we're at our best as fellow citizens when the push-pull of different viewpoints, freely and thoroughly aired in national debate, lead ultimately to compromise and resolution and we move on as a nation, stronger than before.
"God is loving and merciful.
"His heart reaches out to all of His children equally and He expects us to treat each other with love and fairness. There's ample evidence in the life of Jesus Christ to demonstrate that He stood firm for living the laws of God, yet reached out to those who had been marginalized even though He was criticized for doing so."
Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
"Meanwhile, those who seek the protection of religious conscience and expression and the free exercise of their religion look with alarm at the steady erosion of treasured freedoms that are guaranteed in the United States Constitution.
"Sadly, the list is expanding. Accusations of bigotry toward people simply because they are motivated by their religious faith and conscience have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and public debate. When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
"The precious constitutional right of free speech does not exclude any individual or group, and a society is only truly free when it respects freedom of religious exercise, conscience and expression for everyone, including unpopular minorities.
"At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect faith communities and individuals against discrimination and retaliation for claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens.
- We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience, without harming the health or safety of others.
- We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender or sexual orientation.
"Accommodating the rights of all people—including their religious rights—requires wisdom and judgment, compassion and fairness.
"These are serious issues, and they require serious minds engaged in thoughtful, courteous discourse.
"Certainly, religious rights must include a family’s right to worship and conduct religious activities in the home as it sees fit, and for parents to teach their children according to their religious values—recognizing that when children are old enough they will choose their own path.
"Let us conclude by emphasizing this point as an alternative to the rhetoric and intolerance that for too long has come to characterize national debate on this matter. We must find ways to show respect for others whose beliefs, values and behaviors differ from ours while never being forced to deny or abandon our own beliefs, values and behaviors in the process. Every citizen’s rights are best guarded when each person and group guards for others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.
"Today we have spelled out the Church’s concerns about the erosion of religious liberties, while at the same time calling for fairness for all people."
Well Said! Bravo! Three Cheers!
No doubt, then, we can all look forward to civil discourse in the LDS church on religious topics, and an end to persecution and punishment of church members for simply sharing ideas, having questions, or worshipping in their own homes according to their own beliefs.
Because anything less would be wildly hypocritical.