Elder Ronald A. Rasband gave BYU students important perspective on religious freedom and fairness to all in a landmark devotional Tuesday, Sept. 15. He said that in preparing his remarks he had worked closely with the Public Affairs Committee of the Church which is headed by Elder D. Todd Christofferson.
He said, “Because you are a sophisticated and intelligent audience, I intend to speak to you with the candor your generation craves. I suspect that for some of you the phrase religious freedom feels more like freedom to discriminate. I want to talk to you about this view and help you understand what the Church means when it talks religious freedom and why it is so vitally important for your future and for The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints.
“Some in your age group wonder why religious groups are involved in politics in the first place and are often skeptical of the motives of religious people when they do so. In recent years, the collective voice of groups who feel that religion should not play a role in political deliberation has grown louder.
“The opportunity to be involved in the political process is a privilege given to every citizen. Our laws and legislation play an important teaching role in shaping our social and moral cultlure. We need every individual in society to take an active role in engaging in civic dialogue that helps frame laws and legislation that are fair for everyone.”
To explain what Elder Rasband meant by religious freedom he told the hypothetical stories of two people, both in careers that were important to them and where they hoped to make a good impression.
The first is Ethan who had started his job in a career he longed for and wants to make a good impression. He comes early, stays late and does excellent work. Then one day at lunch he shares with some of his co-workers that he is gay. Awkwardness follows in this conservative environment and Ethan feels hurt and rejected. Things become increasingly more difficult at work for him and he finds himself excluded from large projects and social activities. His productivity suffers and soon his boss feels that he is not keeping up and fires him. “Despite all claims to the contrary, Ethan knows he has been fired for being gay.”
Then there’s Samantha who works in the administrative offices of a local university. She loves her job in a stimulating environment, full of diversity until one day a co-worker approaches her and asks if she is a Mormon. When Samantha cheerfully responds that she is, the co-worker asks, “Why do you hate gays?” Samantha is surprised by the question but tries to explain her belief in God and his commandments which includes guidelines on moral and sexual behavior. Soon other co-workers begin to confront her with questions and attacks and her boss cautions her against proselytizing at work or her job will be in jeopardy. Her work, like Ethan’s begins to suffer, and rather than risk being fired, Samantha starts to look for another job.
Elder Rasband said, “Now these are hypothetical stories and yet they are not. There are many Samantha’s and Ethan’s. However we choose to live and whatever choices we make, we share a common humanity and desire for fairness and kindness. Ethan should not have been fired for being gay and Samantha should not have been intimidated for being religious. Both were wrongly criticized, judged and retaliated against.
“Now in today’s society it is politically correct to empathize with Ethan’s situation but less so with Samantha’s. Ethan may find his case picked up by an advocacy group as yet another example of anti-gay discrimination and indeed he does deserve protection. But what about Samantha? Who will defend her right to religious conscience? What about her right to live authentically as a person of faith, committed to love and serving everyone, but also with the right to choose what is right and wrong and to live her life accordingly? Our society has become so blind by its quest to redress wrongful discrimination against one class of people that it is now in danger of creating another victimized class–people of faith like you and me.
“Already some religious schools are being questions because they require students and faculty to adhere to an honor code that requires fidelity and chastity,” Elder Rasband noted. “CEO’s of large companies have been marginalized or forced to resign because their personal religious views are no longer politically acceptable. And some businesses have been forced to close because their owners have spoken their conscience.
“Despite what you may have read or heard over the years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stood consistently for freedom of choice and conscience. Many years ago the prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “We believe that all men are created equal and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience.” He went on to say, ‘If I have been willing to die for a Mormon I am just as willing to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.’”
Elder Rasband said that he can assure that Apostles and Prophets have given significant consideration to the position of the Church on religious freedom. He said, “We believe in following the commandments of God which are designed to secure our eternal happiness. However, God will force no man to heaven.
“We believe in creating a space for everyone to live their conscience without infringing on the rights and safety of others. When the rights of one group collide against the rights of another, we must follow the principle of being as fair and sensitive to as many people as possible. The Church believes and teaches in fairness for all. Protecting conscience is about safeguarding the way someone thinks and feels and their right to act on those beliefs.
“I am talking about someone telling you that the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs you have are not allowed, valued or acceptable because your views are not popular. A war in heaven was fought for agency. It is a gross violation of that agency to force someone to betray their conscience because their views do not align with the crowd.
He said not to misunderstand him on this. When he spoke of being authentic, “the Lord does not give us a free pass to live anyway we choose without consequences. We are still accountable to Him for out choices. He has said, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven, is perfect.’The commandment to seek after perfection implies we start where we are and seek the Lord’s help to lift us to where he wants us to go. Being true to our authentic self requires continual effort to increase our light, knowledge and understanding.”
Elder Rasband said that “the Church favors a balanced approach that secures the rights of all people.” At the January press conference on “Religious Freedom and Fairness to All”, Elder Oaks had said, “We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for all individuals, families and churches and other faith groups, while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation, in hotels, restaurants and transportation, protections which are not available in many parts of the country.”
With the Church’s support within six weeks, Utah had passed a law that protected the LGBT community against eviction, housing discrimination or being fired from a job because of sexual orientation and at the same time protected religious people in the workplace and the public square.
Elder Rasband said, “No doctrinal or religious principles were sacrificed. No changes were made to God’s moral law and our belief that sexual relations should only occur within marriage between a man and a woman. The outcome was fair to all and reflects the consistency and moral teachings and respect for others.”
Elder Rasband made the following suggestions to negotiate the challenging times we live in regarding religious freedom.
“First, try to view others through a lens of fairness. To do this requires you to first acknowledge that Heavenly Father loves each of his children equally. He has said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ There is no choice, sin or mistake that you or anyone else can make that will change his love for you or for them.
“That does not mean he excuses or condones sinful conduct, nor do we in ourselves or in others, but it does mean that we reach out in love to persuade, to help and to rescue. When you feel completely and perfectly loved, it is much easier to love others and see them the way the Savior does.
“Please turn to our Savior in prayer and ask to receive his pure love, both for yourself and for others. He has promised that you will feel his love if you ask in faith. Being filled with this pure love will guide your thoughts and actions, especially in a political arena that at times can be very contentious.
“Tensions can flare easily when discussing politics and especially when discussing religious freedom. If we allow these moments to get the better of us, we will appear very unChristian to our family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances Remember how the Savior handled tough questions and challenging viewpoints. He remained calm. He showed respect. He taught truth, but never forced anyone to live the way he taught.
“Second, let fairness guide your treatment of others. Jesus Christ looked past people’s ethnicity, race and circumstances in order to teach them simple truth. The Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman centurion, the unpopular publican.
“He has commanded us to follow his example, saying ‘Ye shall observe to do the things which you have seen me do.’ Do not judge people or treat them differently because they sin differently than you or we do. Perhaps the greatest challenge in treating others fairly is in the balance required in supporting religious freedom when you have friends or family members who experience same-sex attraction or are firm supporters of their rights. Some of you worry that you will appear intolerant and unsupportive if you seek protections to exercise your faith publicly and freely.
“Again, study the life of our Savior and seek his guidance. The Savior demonstrated perfectly how to reach out in love and encouragement while also holding firm to what he knew to be true. Remember when the woman was caught in adultery? He asked for anyone without sin to step forward and to be the first to condemn her. When no one approached our Savior who was without sin, he commented, ‘Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.’
“The forgiveness and kindness he showed her did not contradict his teachings that sexual intimacy is meant for a husband and a wife who are legally and lawfully married. You too can be unyielding in right and truth yet still reach out in kindness. When Christ’s friends and followers ended their relationship with Him, He expressed sadness and pain. However when a relationship did end, it was because they were uncomfortable with his teachings, not because he was uncomfortable with them.
“As we seek to treat others fairly, we must remember the principle of agency. We must always respect the ability of others to make choices and ask that they extend to us the same courtesy. When talking with others about religious freedom we must always remember that we can disagree without becoming disagreeable. Please do not shy away from a dialogue regarding these important issues simply because you are worried that it might be difficult or uncomfortable. We can pray for help and we can expect that the Savior can help us act and speak in a way that is pleasing to HIm.
“Third, I would encourage you to stand up for fairness if you see another’s rights being impeded… From the time of Joseph Smith to our present day, our legacy is reaching out to heal breaches and hurt without compromising the doctrine. That is not ours to trade away.”
Elder Rasband concluded with an appeal to the rising generation.
“I stand with the leaders of our Lord’s church when I say that we need your generation’s natural understanding of compassion, of respect and fairness. We need your optimism and your determination to work through these complex social issues.
“We have faith that you will turn to the Savior to understand how to live a Christ like life when also showing fairness and love to others who do not share your beliefs. We know you want to be part of something meaningful and we know that you are resilient and collaborative.
“Most importantly, we need you to engage regarding the complexities of this issue and find solutions for how to best extend fairness to everyone including people of faith.
“These conversations need to be occurring in our schools, perhaps right here at Brigham Young University, in our homes, and in relationships with friends and co-workers. When you have these conversations, please remember the principle that we have discussed today which are simply these:
“See others through a lens of fairness. Treat them with respect and kindness and expect the same treatment in return.”
He invited students to come to his Facebook page and share their experiences of love and fairness. Comments have already begun pouring in.