Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Appreciating Other Religious Faiths

Posted by Andrew on January 10, 2008

President Gordon B. Hinckley has admonished us to cultivate “a spirit of affirmative gratitude” for those of differing religious persuasions. He has given us this counsel: “Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”[i] President Hinkley’s inclusive message echoes the words of Joseph Smith, who taught that “[o]ne of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”[ii] In a similar vein, the Lord instructs us in the Doctrine and Covenants to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom”[iii] and to “become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.”[iv]

I’d like to share some experiences about how I’ve benefited from learning about other religious faiths, and to quote what modern-day prophets have told us about how other faiths and churches fit into our Heavenly Father’s plan.

I do this in the hopes that these words will encourage all of us to cultivate the “spirit of affirmative gratitude” of which President Hinkley has spoken.

One evening when I was ten years old I found myself sitting in a Protestant religious service at a YMCA summer camp. I would later come to learn that the particular type of meeting I attended was called a “Revival.” The preacher’s sermon covered the typical Revival message: that all people sin and are therefore deserving of eternal misery, but that we can escape the punishment we deserve if we believe in Jesus Christ and accept him as our personal Savior. The message sounded good to me, and I didn’t see any conflict between the preacher’s message and what my parents and Primary teachers had always taught me. Near the end of the Revival, we were invited to close our eyes and repeat in our minds the words of a special prayer. The prayer acknowledged our sinfulness before God, expressed sorrow for our sins, accepted Jesus as our personal Savior, and asked Jesus to come into our hearts. I closed my eyes and repeated the prayer in my head. And I remember that when I said the prayer, I really meant it. That night, a feeling of peace came into my heart that lasted for several days. I spoke to a friend who was with me at the camp and who was not LDS, and he reported having a similar experience.

This experience at the age of ten taught me there were people outside my church who were doing their best to bring others to Christ as best they understood, and that God touches the hearts of those who sincerely seek him, whether they be inside or outside my church. To this day, I count this experience among the more memorable spiritual experiences I had as a child.

Several years later I came upon a passage in the Book of Mormon that had a deep impact on me. In the twenty-ninth chapter of Second Nephi, the Lord explains that he created all the nations of the Earth, that He loves and remembers all of them, that He speaks the same words to all nations, that He commands all nations to write down the words He gives them, and that the words He has spoken to the various nations of the Earth will one day be “gathered in one.”[v] These passages of the Book of Mormon made me curious to learn about other nations’ books of scripture.

While serving a mission I met a Muslim man who was kind enough to give me a copy of the Qur’an. I began reading it, and was struck by the first few verses, which to me sounded like a prayer:

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Praise be to God, The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds;

Most Gracious, Most Merciful;

Master of the day of Judgment.

Thee do we worship,

And thine aid we seek.

Show us the straight way,

The way of those on whom

Thou has bestowed Thy Grace.[vi]

The commentary printed below these verses explained that in our prayers, “the first words should be those of praise. If the praise is from our inmost being, it brings us into union with God’s will.”[vii] The idea is that by praising God and reminding ourselves of His divine attributes at the outset of our prayers, we humble ourselves and establish a proper tone of reverence. With an attitude of deference to deity, we are then in a proper mindset to seek God’s will.

These verses from the Qur’an helped me recognize that Jesus taught a similar principle. When Jesus gave us an example of how we should pray, He began and ended His prayer with words of praise, and taught us to pray for God’s will to be done: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, in Earth as it is in Heaven. . . For thine is the power, and the kingdom, and the glory, for ever.” Over the next few weeks, I tried to better incorporate this principle into my prayers. As I did so, I felt my prayers becoming more reverential, more humble, and more focused on recognizing God’s will and bringing it to pass, rather than just asking God to a laundry list of things I wanted Him to do for me. Through this experience reading a book of scripture from another faith and comparing it with our Christian scriptures, I gained a deeper understanding of principles I had not yet fully recognized in my own faith.

Several months ago I had an experience where learning about another faith helped me gain a greater appreciation for the necessity of Christ’s atonement. When I was working with the young men in my ward, we arranged a tour of a local Buddhist temple. Before the tour began, we were given a lecture about basic Buddhist teachings. We recognized that one of the doctrines we have in common with Buddhists is what we sometimes refer to as the “law of the harvest,” what you reap is what you sow-the idea that our actions today determine what the consequences we will experience in the future. Buddhists refer to that same idea as the Law of Karma. As our guide was explaining the Law of Karma, he explained that each of us are unavoidably doomed to suffer all the bad consequences of every bad deed we commit in this life, no matter how large or small; there is no escaping the inevitable consequences of all our bad choices. At that moment I recognized an important difference between our two faiths. Although Buddhists and Christians both believe that bad consequences come from bad choices, as Christians we do not believe that we are unavoidably doomed to suffer the consequences of all our bad choices. Rather, as Christians believe that Christ’s atonement breaks the cycle of Karma. We believe because of Christ’s atonement, it is possible to repent and, through His grace, avoid the bad consequences of our bad choices.

Through this experience visiting the Buddhist temple, I gained both an appreciation for the goodness and common truths we find in Buddhism, as well as a deeper appreciation for Christ’s atonement and the “good news” of His Gospel.

Over the years, experiences like these have made me curious about how other religions and churches in the world fit into our Heavenly Father’s plan. I’d like to share with you several quotes from General Conference addresses that have helped me find the answer to that question.

Our modern-day Prophets have long taught that God guides all His children, regardless of whether they belong to our Church. Elder James E. Faust has plainly declared: “[W]e claim that God’s inspiration is not limited to the Latter-day Saints.”[viii] Likewise, Elder Howard W. Hunter explained: “All men share an inheritance of divine light. God operates among his children in all nations, and those who seek God are entitled to further light and knowledge, regardless of their race, nationality, or cultural traditions.”[ix]

Elder Boyd K. Packer has explained that even when the priesthood authority was not found upon the Earth, our Heavenly Father continued to guide His children:”The line of priesthood authority was broken. But mankind was not left in total darkness or completely without revelation or inspiration. The idea that with the Crucifixion of Christ the heavens were closed and that they opened in the First Vision is not true. The Light of Christ would be everywhere present to attend the children of God; the Holy Ghost would visit seeking souls. The prayers of the righteous would not go unanswered.”[x]

On a similar note, Elder Orson F. Whitney explained that God uses many peoples to accomplish His work, including people who do not belong to our Church and do not hold the Priesthood: “[G]ood and great men, not bearing the Priesthood, but possessing profundity of thought, great wisdom . . . have been sent by the Almighty into many nations, to give them, not the fullness of the Gospel, but that portion of truth that they were able to receive and wisely use.[xi God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with [those belonging to other faiths]. They are our partners in a certain sense.”[xii]

It should therefore come as no surprise that we regard the world’s great religious and moral thinkers as inspired servants of God whom we should honor and appreciate. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has declared: “We believe that most religious leaders and followers are sincere believers who love God and understand and serve him to the best of their abilities. . . . We honor them as servants of God.”[xiii]

Likewise, Elder James E. Faust has explained: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. … We believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation.”[xiv]

Accordingly, Latter-day Saints recognize the world’s great religions and their leaders as our partners-not our enemies-in leading God’s children closer to divine truth. As Howard W. Hunter explained: “Latter-day Saints have a positive and inclusive approach toward others who are not of our faith. . . . And we know that God has blessed all his children with goodness and light, in accordance with the conditions in which they find themselves.”[xv]

President Hinkley gave us an example of that “positive and inclusive approach” in his remarks at a General Conference held in 2005, in which he praised Pope John Paul II for “work[ing] tirelessly to advance the cause of Christianity, to lift the burdens of the poor, and to speak fearlessly in behalf of moral values and human dignity.”[xvi]

We should therefore be careful and respectful when we talk about other religious faiths. For example, the Church’s website cautions us not to misinterpret our doctrine of the Restoration in a way that condemns other Christian churches, their leaders, or their followers: “Informed Latter-day Saints do not argue that historic Christianity lost all truth or became completely corrupt. The [other Christian] churches may have lost the ‘fullness’ of the gospel, but they did not lose all of it nor even most of it. . . . [T]he actual LDS view, [] is that the [other Christian] churches are incomplete rather than corrupt. It is their postbiblical creeds that are identified in Joseph Smith’s first vision as an ‘abomination,’ but certainly not their individual members or their members’ biblical beliefs.”[xvii]

We have likewise been warned against misinterpreting the Book of Mormon’s symbolic reference to two churches: the Church of the Lamb of God on the one hand, and the Church of the Devil or “great and abominable church” on the other hand. In the past, some LDS authors speaking unofficially have cited these scriptures to support their idea that churches other than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are part of the “Church of the Devil” or “great and abominable church.” However, an article published in the Ensign makes the following clarification:

“[I]ndividual orientation to the Church of the Lamb or to the great and abominable church is not by membership but by loyalty. Just as there Latter-day Saints who belong to the great and abominable church because of their loyalty to Satan and his life-style, so there are members of other churches who belong to the Lamb because of their loyalty to him and his life-style. Membership is based more on who has your heart than on who has your records.”[xviii]

On a similar note, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a General Conference address about the “Doctrine of Inclusion,” in which he stated:

“We must understand . . . that not everyone is going to accept our doctrine of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the most part, our neighbors not of our faith are good, honorable people-every bit as good and honorable as we strive to be. They care about their families, just like we do. They want to make the world a better place, just like we do. They are kind and loving and generous and faithful, just like we seek to be. Nearly 25 years ago, the First Presidency declared: “Our message … is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father” (First Presidency statement, 15 Feb. 1978).

“That is our doctrine-a doctrine of inclusion. That is what we believe. That is what we have been taught. Of all people on this earth, we should be the most loving, the kindest, and the most tolerant because of that doctrine.”[xix]

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


[i] Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley (1996), 536, 576.[ii] Joseph Smith, quoted in History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nded. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1949), 5:499 (quoted on Church website at http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=338be5c45d19f010VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=3e0511154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD).[iii] D&C 209:7[iv] D&C 90:15[v] 2 Ne. 29:7-14. See also Alma 26:37 [Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in . . . and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth”]; Alma 29:8 [the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have“].[vi] The Holy Qur’an S. I 1-7, A. Yusuf Ali (trans. and comm.), Amana, 1983.[vii] Id., fn. 18.

[viii] Elder James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 12 (emphasis added).

[ix] Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel-A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 18 (emphasis added).

[x] Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2005, 11 (quoted on Church website at: http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=338be5c45d19f010VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=3e0511154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD).

[xi] Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, Apr. 1921, pp. 32-33 [quoted by Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel-A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 18].

[xii] Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59 [quoted by Ezra Taft Benson, “Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, Jul 1972, 59].

[xiii] Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84.

[xiv] Elder James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 12 (emphasis added).

[xv] Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel-A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 18.

[xvi] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Opening Remarks,” Ensign, May 2005, 4.

[xvii] Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 61 (quoted on Church website at http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=338be5c45d19f010VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=3e0511154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD).

[xviii] Stephen E. Robinson, “Warring against the Saints of God,” Ensign, Jan 1988, 34.

[xix] M. Russell Ballard, “Doctrine of Inclusion,” Ensign, Nov 2001, 35.

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8 Responses to “Appreciating Other Religious Faiths”

  1. Craig A said

    Excellent entry with well documented sources. Growing up I felt that all non-LDS church members were horrible people living in different degrees of sin, beyond hope, until they joined our church. I think I carried this with me until after college when I moved to Maryland and then now in Georgia; where I am surrounded by good christian people of multiple different denominations. This doctrine is so important because it gives us the correct lense to look through as we form friendships and do all in our power to complete our friends understandings. Ammon is a perfect wxample of this. He didn’t crush Lamoni’s father’s faith in the Great Spirit before he taught him the gospel, he built off of it.

  2. […] few months ago, I gave a talk in Sacrament meeting in which I discussed how studying other religious faiths and their scriptures had enriched my life. […]

  3. zoecarnate said

    As a Christian, I really appreciate this article on mutual understanding and celebration. I had no idea that LDS tradition compassed this. Thanks for writing!

    Mike
    zoecarnate.com

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  7. […] few months ago, I gave a talk in Sacrament meeting in which I discussed how studying other religious faiths and their scriptures had enriched my life. […]

  8. […] few months ago, I gave a talk in Sacrament meeting in which I discussed how studying other religious faiths and their scriptures had enriched my life. […]

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