National symposium: Sons of Utah Pioneers
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Speaking from the perspective of a fairly new member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, "I suppose anybody receiving this calling would wonder why."
Elder Christofferson was the keynote speaker for the annual Pioneer Symposium of the National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers held May 7, in Salt Lake City.
"I've said as I go around the Church I see many who in my estimation are equally or far better qualified," he said. "And so I say, 'Why?' And I haven't received a full answer yet, but that hasn't stopped me, and I hope it doesn't stop you, that in whatever calling or assignment or opportunity comes to you, unanticipated perhaps, you would go forward in the meantime, not waiting until you have an answer."
But he told his audience, members of a legacy organization honoring the Mormon Pioneers who settled Utah from 1847 on, that much of the reason for his call to the apostleship "may be the Lord honoring some of my ancestors who have gone before for being so faithful."
"I stand here representing them, in a way," he said. He expressed hope that his listeners would be honored by their descendants for their own faithfulness, just as they honor their ancestors by what they do.
"Our overall desire, of course, is to honor our Heavenly Father and to magnify Him in whatever we do."
Elder Christofferson said he had been asked to address the question of what challenges are confronting the leaders of the Church.
"One of them ties into the theme of this seminar," he said, referring to the topic of Brigham Young and the pioneers leaving Nauvoo, Ill., in 1846-47 in search of religious freedom.
"The threats to religious freedom are among the things that concern us at this present time," Elder Christofferson said. Noting that the Church has enjoyed a season, at least in North America, of acceptance of religious expression and activity, such acceptance is beginning to recede, he said.
"We see it, around the world," Elder Christofferson said. "We're a worldwide church; we're not concerned only with what the situation might be in the United States, but of course in every country. But even here, there's a diminished stature for the First Amendment, for the freedom of religion."
Since the 1970s or so, the exalted status given to freedom of religion has been eroded by court decisions, said Elder Christofferson, whose professional background is in the law. "It used to have a very highly protected status in the law in this country; it no longer does," he said, explaining that freedom of religion now must compete with lesser rights, such as employment anti-discrimination rules.
"We see it elsewhere," he said. "We narrowly avoided in the United Kingdom just last year legislation that would have made it illegal to discriminate on religious standards for any kind of employment, including in our temples. We could not have made the temple recommend a prerequisite for someone to work in the temple, if you can imagine."
In U.S. government some are beginning to use the phrase "freedom of worship" instead of "freedom of religion," Elder Christofferson said.
"Freedom of worship is a much smaller concept," he explained, saying it pertains to religious rites and ceremonies. "Religious freedom is so much broader than that. As you know this freedom is not simply worship, but the practice of religion in all of its aspects: to organize, to meet, to proselytize, the freedom of people to change their religion if they choose, all of those rights are increasingly under attack.
"And just the ability to speak, to have a part in the national debate on issues is under tremendous pressure by movements from groups who say any religiously based opinion or position is not legitimate, cannot be heard, cannot be received or considered in the public square."
Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints ought to live with faith rather than fear, Elder Christofferson said, quoting the words of Brigham Young.
"The Lord has sent us to be strong, to honor Him, to do His work and to call upon Him," he said. "And I guess if there's any one thing that I have learned in these last three years serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, it is that He indeed does His work."
It is a privilege, Elder Christofferson said, to be allowed by the Lord to assist in that work. In doing so, "our faith can be unbounded, and we really don't need to fear," he said.
Calling President Young "the quintessential man of action and faith," Elder Christofferson said that as long as he knew what he was trying to accomplish was the will of God, "he had implicit faith that it would succeed, even if he couldn't see how it was going to come out, didn't have all of the resources to make it happen yet."
One element of President Young's faith was that God will do only what men and women cannot do for themselves, Elder Christofferson noted.
He quoted this statement from President Young: "My faith does not lead me to think that the Lord will provide us with roast pigs and bread already buttered, etc.; He will give us the ability to raise the grain, to obtain the fruits of the earth, to make habitations, to procure a few boards to make a box, and when harvest comes giving us the grain; it is for us to preserve it" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 291).
Elder Christofferson noted that President Young said the root of his faith was not in miracles or blessings provided but in "the Lord Jesus Christ and my knowledge I have received from Him" (see Journal of Discourses 3:155).
"I believe that's something required of all of us," Elder Christofferson said. "For our faith to truly be rooted and lasting, it has to be in Him, and it has to come from our knowledge of Him, more than observations or even experience."