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President Uchtdorf Speaks at Religious Symposium at USC

John A. Widtsoe Symposium and Chair Established on California Campus

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Harriet, joined religious scholars and leaders of other faiths at the inaugural John A. Widtsoe Symposium at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on Friday, April 24, 2015. Descendants of Elder Widtsoe, a Mormon apostle and scholar, were also in attendance.

Speaking at the event, President Uchtdorf commended USC for “its desire to advance dialogue in religious studies” and “to seek out commonalities and discover shared values among people of different faiths.”

“The effort to throw off traditions of distrust and pettiness and truly see one another with new eyes—see each other not as aliens or adversaries but as fellow travelers, brothers and sisters, and children of God—is one of the most challenging while at the same time most rewarding and ennobling experiences of our human existence,” said President Uchtdorf.

In 1935, Elder Widtsoe was invited to teach a class on Mormonism at USC. That experience led to the creation of the Church’s institutes of religion on college campuses around the globe. In addition to serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Doctor Widtsoe also served as president of the University of Utah, academic professor and author of both religious and professional books and articles.

Referring to Elder Widtsoe's common European heritage, President Uchtdorf said jokingly, “He was obviously a man of good judgment,”  President Uchtdorf and Elder Widtsoe were both born and lived in Europe and were educated in Germany. “I am very happy that these symposia and the ultimate Chair in LDS Studies will bear his noble name."

The chair includes a tenured professor (faculty position) within the USC School of Religion with responsibilities that include curriculum development, seminars and other programs. The recipient of the chair will be named at a later date.

“John A. Widtsoe was a visionary thinker and prominent intellectual, deeply engaged with the most pressing theological and spiritual concerns of his day,” said Dr. Varun Soni, Dean of Religious Life at USC, in a letter included in the symposium program.

President Uchtdorf emphasized that since Elder Widtsoe taught about Mormonism on the USC campus 80 years ago Church membership has grown from less than 850,000 then to more than 15 million members today. He also noted that the Church’s humanitarian outreach efforts have increased to help others around the world.

“Church members seek to create goodwill among people of all religious beliefs, political persuasions, and of every race,” he added.

“We Mormons know what it means to be a minority—throughout our history we have been discriminated against and persecuted as a result of our religious beliefs,” said President Uchtdorf. “More recently, we are experiencing the growing pains of becoming a majority in some areas—which creates its own challenges. In both cases, we understand that the rights of all men—whether they are in the minority or majority—must be preserved and safeguarded.”

President Uchtdorf focused the remainder of his remarks on speaking up for the truth and loving others, referencing a recent visit he and his wife made to Auschwitz, a former Nazi concentration camp in Eastern Europe. "I am convinced that had my countrymen felt and applied the power of divine love and compassion, the Holocaust never could have happened. The evil that befell the world could have been prevented. Such heartache could not have descended upon the planet."

“The great tragedy is if only we could take the time to truly know the other person, we would discover that perhaps we are not so different at all. He who once was our enemy can become our friend,” added President Uchtdorf. “Too often evil rises in the world because good men and good women do not find the courage to speak against it. And sometimes terrible, preventable events happen because we fail to open our mouths.”

“If we love as Christ loved, if we truly follow the path He practiced and preached, there is a chance for us to avoid the echoing tragedies of history and the seemingly unavoidable fatal flaws of man,” he concluded.

USC has more than 90 student religious groups and more than 50 religious directors and chaplains, including the Latter-day Saint Student Association. The association supports several hundred Mormon students on campus every year. Several other symposia on Mormon-related topics will be held on campus in the upcoming semesters.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.

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