Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke of the powerful possibilities of partnership between secular and sacred institutions during the G20 Interfaith Forum in a virtual gathering, hosted by Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
Bednar said the labeling of religion as a non-essential activity by some governments has placed an unfortunate stumbling block along the path to recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While religious activities should be carefully limited when necessary, Bednar said, he noted that a person’s safety is always a core concern.
He told the global gathering of some 500 faith and policy leaders gathered virtually, “how secular officials understand religion and religious people deeply, influences how they treat religious institutions and believers in a time of crisis. The deeper and more respectful the understanding, the more legitimate and effective public policy responses can be.”
Bednar’s message was key for the forum because the G20 organization pursues solutions to global concerns through collaboration with a wide variety of religious and policy leaders.
Those recommendations that come from the five-day gathering are to be presented in November to the G20, chaired this year by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The G20 brings together the heads of the world’s leading economies. It is the premier forum for international economic cooperation, according to church information.
Bednar and others are discussing what government officials need to understand about the role of religion — both in society and in the life of each believer.
Faith communities help billions of people find meaning and purpose, Bednar said. They transmit “moral and social truths to the next generation.” These, he added, are vital functions.
“Respecting the dignity of religious people pays important dividends. But these powerful opportunities and benefits are possible only if officials acknowledge that for believers and their faith communities, religion is essential to their identity and very being,” Bednar said.
Bednar noted, religious freedom is recognized in international law as a “non-derogable” right. “Non-derogable” means religion is a freedom that is inviolable, even in emergencies.
A proper understanding of and respect for religious groups can yield important benefits for the entire community, Bednar added. This approach can foster trust and taps into the vast resources religious bodies possess, including social capital.
“Many religious leaders already have called on their members to make great sacrifices out of deep love and respect for the safety of others,” according to Bednar, whose plenary session also included remarks from representatives from the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
“Acknowledging and respecting those sacrifices and seeking for greater cooperation and accommodation is the way forward,” Bednar noted.
“My hope and prayer,” he concluded, “(is) that government officials and faith leaders can collectively respond to COVID-19 in ways that protect both physical and spiritual health.”
Bednar is the third apostle and fourth church leader to participate in the G20 Interfaith conference.
Sister Sharon Eubank, director of Latter-day Saint Charities will speak Saturday morning, the final day of the interfaith gathering, in a plenary session about the important role of faith communities in the wake of disasters.