Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men — Not Just Those Who Share My Beliefs

There is a spiritual maturity demonstrated by those who can accept religious common ground with others and also respectfully acknowledge differences. This comes from spending time with each other and by taking an approach that puts a desire to seek mutual understanding and goodwill above pride and self-interest.

Currently, many media and other discussions in the United States and elsewhere are raising questions about what it means to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how Mormons fit into neighborhood and national social mosaics. Some of these questions and comments are dispassionate, dignified and thoughtful. However, many others come across either as misguided utterances or as deliberate attacks. The latter type of comment is often underpinned by a tone of expertise and authority that baffles those who know Latter-day Saint beliefs best — Mormons themselves.

Ill-informed comments can be easily forgiven, and chances to engage in discussion to develop mutual, accurate understanding and respect are often seized upon — as they should be. But when a person starts excluding someone of a different faith as a legitimate participant in society because there are theological differences — then a line has been crossed.

It is bewildering to a Mormon to hear or read that some others feel that she or he is not a Christian. To a Mormon, any person who worships, loves and honestly tries to live by the teachings of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God and Savior of Mankind, is a fellow Christian. Theological differences unquestionably exist, but genuine, reverent love for and sincere striving to emulate the Savior qualify any person to call her- or himself a Christian.

Joseph Smith, the Mormons’ first prophet, said: “I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled.”

Speaking more recently, Latter-day Saint Apostle, Elder M. Russell Ballard said: “Just as we claim the right to worship as we choose, we believe [others] have the right to worship—or to not worship—as [they] see fit. All of our interpersonal relationships should be built on a foundation of mutual respect, trust, and appreciation. But that shouldn’t prevent us from sharing deeply held religious feelings with each other. Indeed, we may find that our [religious and] philosophical differences add flavor and perspective to our relationships, especially if those relationships are built on true values, openness, respect, trust, and understanding.”

Cynicism and distrust are tainting much of the discussion about faith and values, and their influence on social systems. And this is causing us to miss the opportunity to engage with each other, through media and face to face, on more important issues — such as how we can get along so we can work together to do good in our homes, communities and nations.

Truly effective collaboration, for the good of our families and societies, is not possible until we have the will and the maturity to listen to, understand and respect each other. When the intolerance hurdle has been successfully jumped, all sorts of wonderful things can happen, as individuals rub shoulders while working toward common community objectives.

Muslims, Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons and many others, working side by side to help rebuild parts of Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami, provided a powerful example of what is possible. Political, ethnic and faith lines were washed away by the flooding as individuals temporarily put aside differences to focus on more pressing, shared imperatives.

During this Christmas season and at all times, a true showing of our depth of devotion and faith will be how we talk about and engage with others — others of our own faith and, even more significant, those who may have some differing religious beliefs. The way we talk and write about others says a lot more about ourselves than it does about those we seek to describe.

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