Additional Resource

The Good That People of Faith Do

By Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

This address was given February 27, 2020, at the New York Latter-day Saint Professionals Association Dinner honoring Mariano Rivera, in New York City, New York. See a summary article of the event.


It is an honor for me to be with you and participate in this event tonight. I express appreciation to Elder David L. Buckner, Ron Ahrens, and to all who have helped to organize our dinner and program this evening. May I express appreciation to the New York Latter-day Saint Professionals Association for the great good you do, individually and together, and for honoring our special guest, Mariano Rivera. Mr. Rivera—Mr. Sandman—I consider it a signal honor to be here on this occasion to help pay tribute to you.

Most of you in this audience are familiar with the ancient law of tithing. You are not only familiar with the concept, but you live that commandment by donating 10 percent of your income. Mariano has done something similar. As his 19-season baseball career with the Yankees really began to take off, he created the Mariano Rivera Foundation, a charitable organization that funds schools and churches and educational opportunities for underprivileged children in the United States, his native Panama, and several other countries. He has donated 10 percent of his baseball salary to the foundation, plus all of his substantial earnings from endorsement deals. The Giving Back Fund ranked him 25th on its list of most generous celebrity donors. When you think of all the celebrities around, that is quite an achievement.

When I learned that Mariano Rivera would be the recipient of this award, and recognizing what he has accomplished as a result of his faith and philanthropy, I decided that I should speak about the good that religion and people of faith do in society. Mariano Rivera is such a perfect example.

The freedom of religious people and institutions to function according to their faith and beliefs is fundamental to societal well-being. Religion benefits not only believers but all of society, including nonbelievers, whether they know it or not. Let me mention just a few ways that religious faith, freely exercised, promotes civic virtue and is vital to strong, flourishing communities.

Freedom of Religion or Belief and Civic Virtue

Research has shown that protecting religious freedom promotes societal harmony. Religious freedom and the other freedoms it supports have significant correlations with positive social and economic outcomes “ranging from better health care to higher incomes for women.”[i] By contrast, societal restrictions on religion increase intrastate conflict,[ii] religiously motivated violence,[iii] political corruption,[iv] and overall levels of strife and national unrest.[v]

Countries with strong traditions of religious freedom tend to be not only more stable and safer but also more prosperous. A recent study reached the remarkable conclusion that the presence of religious freedom in a country is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth.[vi] Imagine what positive changes could occur if more officials and policymakers recognized that protecting religious freedom is one of the three most significant things they could do to promote the economic growth and well-being of their country.

Religious conscience encourages the virtues and habits of good citizenship necessary for a free society. Honesty. Duty. Moral self-discipline. Sacrifice for family and country. Compassion and service toward others. Civic engagement. As Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, the famous German jurist and Federal Constitutional Court judge put it, “The liberal secular state is sustained by conditions it cannot itself guarantee. That is the great gamble it has made for the sake of liberty.”[vii]

A society where these civic virtues prevail has a robust version of what Lord Moulton called the realm of “the Unenforceable.”[viii] By this is meant those areas of life governed by a self-enforced code of conduct that “signifies the doing [of] that which you should do although you are not obliged to do it.”[ix] The late Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen expressed the point this way:

The ethic of obedience to the unenforceable was established by vibrant religions, and some of these teachings have become a part of our culture. As a result, today there are many . . . who are not religious, who still voluntarily obey the law, comply with contracts, value honesty and integrity and respect other people’s rights and property. This is because certain religious teachings have become embedded in our culture.[x]

Not only are the religious more likely to be law-abiding; they are more likely to be active, engaged, contributing members of the community. Studies show that religious citizens are more likely than nonreligious citizens to belong to community organizations, serve as an officer or committee member of an organization, and take part in local civic and political life by attending town meetings, voting in local elections, and pressing for social and political reform.[xi] Leading scholars have declared that “religiosity is, by far, the strongest and most consistent predictor of a wide range of measures of civic involvement.”[xii]

The willingness of religious believers to give and serve arises from the sense of compassion that religion teaches us to have for our neighbors—especially those who are poor or otherwise in need. Inspired by such compassion, religious volunteers provide vital services for the most vulnerable: food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, schools for the uneducated, and medical care for the sick. More than 90 percent of those who attend weekly worship services donate to charity, and nearly 70 percent of them volunteer for charitable causes.[xiii] In this regard, I would submit Mariano Rivera and the Mariano Rivera Foundation as Exhibit A. And I hasten to include in that Exhibit A the faith-based work of Mariano’s wife, Clara, and her Refuge of Hope congregation in New Rochelle.

What is true of the humanitarian efforts of religious individuals is also true of the religious institutions they comprise. Two and a half years ago, I represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in receiving the World Peace Prize from the World Peace Centre at the Maharashtra Institute of Technology in Pune, India, the sixth-largest city in the country. This Hindu-oriented institution wanted to recognize the humanitarian efforts of our Church in India and across the world. I should note that copies of the just-published 2019 annual report of Latter-day Saint Charities are available here tonight, and I think all of you would enjoy reading about the breadth and depth of its work.

As many of you know, this spring marks the bicentennial anniversary of what we refer to as the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith in upstate New York near Palmyra. To honor the role that New York played in the beginnings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 200 years ago, we are pleased to announce tonight that over the course of 2020, the Church will be making donations of commodities to 200 nonprofit food pantries that serve the less fortunate throughout the state of New York. It is anticipated that at least 600 tons of food will be delivered to pantries in approximately 96 different municipalities across the state—from Afton to Yorktown Heights, from Hicksville to Manhattan, and many places in between.

We are delighted that many of the pantries that will be receiving food are sponsored by our friends of other faiths, including our AME, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, and Seventh-day Adventist colleagues, among others. Indeed, among the pantries receiving food will be the one administered by our host tonight, the Riverside Church. In addition, funds will be provided to nonprofit food pantries that offer kosher food to the needy and are unable to use the commodities that we are supplying to others.

Our major humanitarian work is almost always done in partnership with such organizations as Catholic Relief Services, Islamic Relief Services, Red Cross and Red Crescent, and others, as well as with the United Nations and various government entities, local and national. Religious institutions are at their best working with one another and in collaboration with secular and governmental organizations to relieve suffering and to act preventively in strengthening families, communities, and society in general.

Religion has profound effects within families. Marriages are more stable and families are more self-sufficient because of the influence of religion. Numerous international studies have shown that valuing and regularly practicing religion is “associated with greater marital stability, higher levels of marital satisfaction, and an increased likelihood that an individual will be inclined to marry.”[xiv]

Children are safer and thrive better in families led by a religious mother and father whose faith inspires them to make personal sacrifices for the strength and happiness of their marriage and children. Children raised in religious homes are less likely to experience anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, and sadness.[xv] Religious practice correlates with reduced rates of youth depression[xvi] and suicide.[xvii] A strong family coupled with regular religious practice is the most effective defense against the pernicious evils of pornography,[xviii] drug and alcohol abuse,[xix] and other addictive behaviors.[xx]

I am not for a moment suggesting that religion is the only source of virtue within society, or that secular people cannot be highly moral. My point is simply that very often religion does the hard work of inculcating the habits and mores necessary for free and democratic societies to flourish.

Public discussions about the common good are enriched by men and women who routinely put duty above convenience and conscience above personal advantage. Those who advocate from a religiously informed standpoint should not be intimidated by those who claim they are imposing their religious beliefs on others. In a pluralistic society, everyone promotes what they feel is best based on the values they hold, be they religious or nonreligious. To argue, to persuade, to promote, or to defend is not to impose. In the end, someone’s values prevail, and all of us have the right—even the duty—to promote the values and virtues that we believe will best serve the needs of people and most benefit the common good.

Without religious voices, our political and social debates would lack the richness and insights needed to make wise decisions. Religious people and organizations bring unique experiences and perspectives to public policy debates. They recognize corrosive social forces that threaten faith, family, and freedom. They know personally about the hardships of family breakdown, unemployment, poverty, drug abuse, and numerous other social ills. Why? Because they are on the front lines, helping individuals and families work through these wrenching problems. When they speak out, they do so not for selfish reasons but out of concern for the people they minister to, their families, and society itself. They bring a moral—often cautionary—voice to matters of social and public policy with a long-term view that takes into account divine laws that sustain accountability, stewardship, and service to others.

In all of this, let us remember the critical need for civility. Whatever others may do, however they may choose to act or speak, faith impels us to defend faith with civility out of deep regard for the worth of each human soul, whether aligned with us or not.

These are our times, and they are remarkable times, complex and filled with global challenges though they may be. This is our moment to sustain religious freedom and to apply our resources and faith for the welfare of our brothers and sisters everywhere. As tonight’s honoree, Mariano Rivera, has shown, we can individually make a difference. Thank you, and may God bless you.

[i] Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales, “People’s Opium? Religion and Economic Attitudes,” Journal of Monetary Economics (2003), 227.

[ii] See Roger Finke, “Origins and Consequences of Religious Restrictions: A Global Overview,” Sociology of Religion, vol. 74, no. 3 (2013), 1.

[iii] See Roger Finke and Jaime Dean Harris, “Wars and Rumors of Wars: Explaining Religiously Motivated Violence,” in Religion, Politics, Society, and the State (2011), 53.

[iv] See Seymour Martin Lipset and Gabriel Salman Lenz, “Corruption, Culture, and Markets,” in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (2000), 112.

[v] See Brian J. Grim, Vegard Skirbekk, and Jesus C. Cuaresma, “Deregulation and Demographic Change: A Key to Understanding Whether Religious Plurality Leads to Strife,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, vol. 9, article 13 (2013), 1.

[vi] See Brian J. Grim, Greg Clark, and Robert Edward Snyder, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business? A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, vol. 10, article 4 (2014), 1.

[vii] E. W. Böckenförde, (2018). The rise of the state as a process of secularization. In M. Künkler and T. Stein eds., E. W. Böckenförde, Religion, law and democracy. Selected writings (forthcoming). Oxford: Oxford University Press (Original work published in 1967).

[viii] John Fletcher Moulton (Baron Moulton), “Law and Manners,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1924, 1.

[ix] Moulton, “Law and Manners,” 1.

[x] Clayton Christensen, “Religion Is the Foundation of Democracy and Prosperity,” Feb. 8, 2011,

[xi] See Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace, 454–55; see also Pippa Norris, “Does Praying Together Mean Staying Together? Religion and Civic Engagement in Europe and the United States,” in Joep de Hart, Paul Dekker, and Loek Halman, eds., Religion and Civil Society in Europe (2013), 285 (demonstrating a positive correlation between religious observance and civic engagement in Western Europe).

[xii] Putnam and Campbell, American Grace, 454–55.

[xiii] See Arthur C. Brooks, “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving,” Policy Review, Oct. 2003,; see also Putnam and Campbell, American Grace.

[xiv] Patrick Fagan, “Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” Dec. 18, 2006, In fact, sociological studies and literature reviews going back more than half a century indicate that attending religious services is the single most important predictor of marital stability. See David B. Larson, Susan S. Larson, and John Gartner, “Families, Relationships and Health,” Behavior and Medicine (1990), 135.

[xv] See Byron R. Johnson, Ralph Brett Tompkins, and Derek Webb, “Objective Hope—Assessing the Effectiveness of Faith-Based Organizations: A Review of the Literature,” Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (2002),

[xvi] See Loyd S. Wright, Christopher J. Frost, and Stephen J. Wisecarver, “Church Attendance, Meaningfulness of Religion, and Depressive Symptomatology Among Adolescents,” Journal of Youth & Adolescence, vol. 22, no. 5 (1993), 559.

[xvii] See Johnson, Tompkins, and Webb, “Objective Hope—Assessing the Effectiveness of Faith-Based Organizations.” See also Frank Tovato, “Domestic/Religious Individualism and Youth Suicide in Canada,” Family Perspectives, vol. 24 (1990), 69.

[xviii] See Nicholas Zill, “Quality of Parent-Child Relationship, Religious Attendance, and Family Structure,” Mapping America (2009), 48,; see also Mapping America publications on U.S. patterns of viewing X-rated movies (Mapping America, 37–39) and adultery (Mapping America, 73–75),

[xix] See Marvin D. Free Jr., “Religiosity, Religious Conservatism, Bonds to School, and Juvenile Delinquency Among Three Categories of Drug Users,” Deviant Behavior, vol. 15 (1994), 151.

[xx] See William J. Strawbridge, Sarah J. Shema, Richard D. Cohen, and George A. Kaplan, “Religious Attendance Increases Survival by Improving and Maintaining Good Health Behaviors, Mental Health, and Social Relationships,” Annals of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 23, no. 1 (2001), 68; Johnson, Tompkins, and Webb, “Objective Hope—Assessing the Effectiveness of Faith-Based Organizations.”

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.