Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions
Esteemed participants of the 5th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, we express our deepest appreciation to join with you in this historic Congress. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers it an honor to participate with you under the able leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has had the vision to organize and support this important gathering of world religious leaders. I also commend Speaker of the Senate and Head of Secretariat for this Congress, the Honorable Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, for furthering the work of this noble cause.
The theme of this year’s Congress calls for “Dialogue Based on Mutual Respect and Understanding among Leaders of World and Traditional Religions” with the desired outcome being “Peace, Security, and Harmony.”
The founding years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also referred to as the Mormon Church, today comprising over 15 million members in 176 nations and territories, saw quite the opposite of peace, security, and harmony. Established in 1830, thousands of our early converts were driven and persecuted across the North American continent until they found refuge in the desert of the Great Salt Lake in the far west. Harassment, false accusations, and the loss of life and property were the fate of many of our early members, ultimately leading to the martyrdom of our founding prophet, Joseph Smith. From history we know what it means to be mistreated, misunderstood, and disrespected.
For the many wrongs committed against the Church during that period, a delegation of the state of Illinois presented an official statement of regret to Church officials in April 2004.
Thankfully for us, physical threats are now largely things of the past, but opposition to the Church, its members, and teachings continues. Today, in a few areas of the world, we constitute a majority, but in most we continue to be a minority religion. Where we are in the majority, we are anxious to do all we can to be welcoming and open to those of other faiths; where we are in the minority, we wish for the same courtesy to be extended to us.
Now let us be honest, let us look into our hearts: is it not true, dear friends, that the true test of our character, the true test of whether we really mean it comes in how we welcome and treat minority religions when we are in the majority, when we are in a position of strength?
In spite of having suffered the most serious persecution in our early history, we continue to follow the teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
“Wherefore,” as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “if the nation, a single State, community, or family ought to be grateful for anything, it is peace. Our motto, then, is Peace with all! We want to live in peace with all men. [Let us] cultivate peace by honoring one another and refusing to find fault.”
This is at the heart of what this conference hopes to achieve. Dialogue and mutual respect among us leaders constitutes a necessary condition for dialogue and mutual respect among our followers. In order to achieve peace, security, and harmony among ourselves, among the religious leaders gathered here today and around the world, we must really mean what we say. We should be sincere about each other’s well-being and in our good intentions towards one another.
For Christians one of the most stinging rebukes by our Savior Jesus Christ is to be called a hypocrite. A hypocrite, among other things, is someone who says one thing publically but then thinks and does quite the opposite. A hypocrite will make declarations in meetings or private conversations without really meaning it or intending to act upon them afterwards.
While imperfect, leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ don’t want to be hypocrites. We teach our members and missionaries to never say or write anything negative or disrespectful about other religions. More importantly, we teach them to not even think anything negative or disrespectful about other faiths.
This is a common value we share. Like you, “we rejoice to see prejudice give way to truth” (Joseph Smith). And so, I call upon all of us to continue to learn of each other, to understand each other’s doctrines and beliefs, to discover the depths and meaning of our various religious persuasions. True knowledge based on accurate information can help dispel fear.
To be worthy of its meaning, dialogue must be more than just an exchange of pleasantries. Engaged in with real intent and a sincere desire to learn, honest dialogue will lead to real understanding, which in turn will generate respect for each other. Someone who knows nothing about another’s beliefs has no right to an opinion.
If we are to achieve peace, security, and harmony, if we are to achieve mutual respect and understanding, we not only have to know more about each other, but we have to want to know more about each other. As leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “we believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men” (Articles of Faith 1:13).
We also “believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith 1:12). No matter where our missionaries serve, no matter where our members live, we teach them to act uprightly in accordance with the laws of the land. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things” (Articles of Faith 1:13).
I am confident there is much that is virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy in the religions and doctrines represented here by you at this Congress. As far as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in concerned, we sincerely wish to get to know you, to understand and appreciate your beliefs, “to cultivate peace and friendship with all.”
“Shall we not go on in so great a cause?” We should. And as we do, I express my appreciation to the organizers of this Congress for bringing us together to spread goodwill and the motto of peace among the people of this world.