In the past two weeks, Apostles and leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have spoken out at various worldwide summits on the need for religious freedom.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the inaugural Religious Freedom Summit at the University of Notre Dame on Monday.
His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York since 2009, delivered the keynote at the summit. Three others then spoke: Cook; Dr. Jacqueline Rivers, a Pentecostal and the director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies; and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York.
Cook said that too often today the good of religion is overlooked or viewed negatively. Borrowing a phrase from one Jewish leader, he lamented how many today are “tone deaf to the music of faith.” Thus, the Apostle spoke about two of the blessings that flow from the religious impulse: accountability and good works, according to a church statement.
“Accountability to God for our relationships with each other is a powerful force for good and strongly supports democracy,” Cook said. “Being accountable sustains and blesses the values that are most important for societal unity.”
Cook noted how religion has moved religious people, such as William Wilberforce (Great Britain) and the Quakers (early America) to abolish slavery. He also pointed to the animating force of faith in people such as Martin Luther King Jr., who promoted civil rights in the United States in the 1960s, according to church information.
Cook said some people claim that upholding the principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution, such as religious freedom, does not square with protecting the rights of minority groups.
He pushed back, saying that support of the Constitution and advocacy for “strong, peaceful efforts to overcome racial and social injustice are not opposites. Eliminating racism at all levels needs to be accomplished. And, historically, religious conviction has been one of the great forces in accomplishing that goal.”
Helping the world better recognize the good that people of faith do must be a joint project, Cook added.
“My plea today is that all religions work together to defend faith and religious freedom in a manner that protects people of diverse faith as well as those of no faith,” the Apostle said. “Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Latter-day Saints and [people of] other faiths must be part of a coalition of faiths that succor, act as a sanctuary and promulgate religious freedom across the world. We must not only protect our ability to profess our own religion, but also protect the right of each religion to administer its own doctrines and laws.”
He challenged summit attendees to “tack against the prevailing winds of disbelief and division. You will know best how to accomplish this and stand as a beacon of belief and unity in a world that often devalues both.”
Holland and EubankCook is not the only one speaking out on religious freedoms. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Sister Sharon Eubank, counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency and director of Latter-day Saint Charities, joined other leaders in a virtual meeting on the mental and emotional health of millions of people in refugee camps and the support they need in expressing religious faith.
The 2021 AMAR Windsor Dialogue Conference was held June 21-23 in Windsor, England.
The conference was hosted by Baroness Emma Nicholson, chairman of the AMAR Foundation, and conducted by the Right Reverend Dr. Alastair Redfern of the Anglican faith. The summit brought together faith leaders, academics and government representatives to address the impact of worldwide religious persecution.
Holland emphasized that “we can’t just throw money at” the humanitarian crisis in which 90 million refugees have been driven from their homes.
“We still have to make sure that there’s something far more powerful and more intangible than that,” Holland said. “And that is the very religious faith that gives them their identity.”
“Let’s make sure we give them that opportunity to continue their hope, their expression, their love of God or their relationship with God in whatever way it is that they believe,” Holland added.
Elder Holland underlined the essential place of music in religious worship and in boosting the individual sense of self-worth among refugees and internally displaced people.
“We need to give to people the bonds that tie them together and that make them who they are, and music is going to be one of those, and music has been one of those for us. They are tied together with this incredible bond,” Holland said.
The Windsor conference gave special emphasis to the plight of the oppressed Yazidi religious minority of northern Iraq. Baroness Nicholson described how terrorist groups had targeted cultural expression.
“Music is at the heart of everyone’s faith and the Yazidis were not able to practice music in the camps, ISIS were shooting the priests,” Nicholson said.
Professor Michael Bochmann, professor of violin and chamber music at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, related how AMAR and their partners had supported the cultural and musical needs of the Yazidis, including the recording and promotion of Yazidi music and choral groups.
He expressed gratitude for Latter-day Saint Charities in their support of AMAR and said working with Eubank and Nicholson was “a really high point in my life. We’ve brought joy to the Yazidis living in the camps, we’ve created a choir and we’ve preserved the religious music of the Yazidi people,” Bochmann said.
With refugees remaining in camps for an average of 11 years, caring for the mental and emotional health of displaced people is critical.
Eubank said, “Many, many of them saw their families killed in front of their eyes, or they experienced horrific sexual violence or many other very, very difficult things. And that trauma is like a time bomb; it sits under their skin and it’s just waiting to go off. It must be gently let out in a safe environment and processed with great skill or the person is forever paused at this intersection.”
Citing research conducted within camps in Jordan by the Center for Mind Body Medicine, Eubank said that 32% of Syrian refugee adults report feeling so hopeless that they do not want to continue living.
“The problem is so big and acute that no one can crack it,” she said. “It will take a coalition with all playing different roles.” Latter-day Saint Charities has learned valuable lessons with partners, from experiences in other parts of the world where need is also acute.
Eubank offered “three critical suggestions” from these experiences. “One, recognition that spiritual healing is powerful medicine and vital to services. Two, offer basic emotional and spiritual care, including examples of others who have recovered and how they found relief. Three, connect the dots of emotional and spiritual care for a full-range, consistent plan.”
Boyce Fitzgerald, who oversees the Latter-day Saints’ humanitarian outreach in the Middle East/Africa North Area, addressed the practical response to individual needs and in working with local partners. There is increasing emphasis on helping families maintain livelihoods through education and self-reliance.
At a time when religious persecution drives forced migration for millions, Elder Gary B. Sabin, Europe Area president for the LDS Church, referenced the Latter-day Saints’ own early experience of religious oppression and highlighted the principle of religious freedom.
“It is the responsibility of all people of faith and conscience to understand and to advance this fundamental human freedom for themselves and for all of our neighbors,” he said. “For us, our history’s lesson still lingers; it is clear that religious freedom is not to be taken for granted.”