RIO DE JANEIRO — Religious freedom is a duty to uphold the freedom of others, even one’s adversaries, and it provides the architecture to help a diverse and divided society remain healthy and peaceful, a Latter-day Saint apostle said Wednesday. at a historical symposium in Brazil.
“Society is too big for us to avoid people we don’t like or perceived enemies we despise,” said Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. .
“A pluralistic era like ours does not offer the old comfort of homogeneity. We don’t have to accept the religious or political beliefs of our neighbors, but social harmony and stability demand that we give them the benefit of the doubt. We have no choice but to learn to coexist.
Brother Soares, who is from Brazil, spoke in his native Portuguese during a panel with three other prominent Brazilian religious figures, a Catholic Church deacon, and national Muslim and Seventh-day Adventist leaders.
Elder Soares held up Brazil as an example of how religions can coexist peacefully.
“While undergoing a dynamic shift over the years from Roman Catholicism to Pentecostal, Protestant and other churches, the population has managed to avoid broad sectarian conflict,” he said.
One participant arrived at the opening of the event feeling a deep need for the symposium to help her faith.
The son of Mametu Nangetu, the figurehead of the Africa-based Candomble faith in Brazil, was shot and killed on Sunday after residents of Belém do Pará attacked an outdoor event organized by the faith.
Brazilian African religions have historically faced discrimination and violence, said one of the conference organizers, Rodrigo Vitorino Souza Alves, director of the Brazilian Center for Law and Religion Studies.
He said Nangetu is seen by African Brazilians as a very important leader in promoting racial equality and religious freedom.
“I’m here because I want to strengthen ties,” Nangetu said. “I hope the intolerance will end. My culture is not demonic but ancestral.
The organizers did not learn of the death of Venicio Gonsalves, whose mother said he was known by the sacred name of Taata Kumbelemkosi, until the start of the symposium.
The tragedy added emotion and urgency to the panel’s comments.
Elder Soares said that all people want to be respected and heard, to feel welcome and belong.
“Religious freedom is as much a duty to others as it is a right to oneself,” he said, adding, “We gain freedom by supporting the freedom of those whom we see as our adversaries. When we see that our interests are intertwined with the interests of everyone else, then the real work of religious liberty begins.
He and Stanley Arco, president of the South American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, both invoked the Golden Rule.
“Religious freedom follows the example of Jesus Christ, who said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’” President Arco said.
This idea, Elder Soares said, “establishes a connection between self and other, between my experience and your experience.”
He also applied it to religious freedom itself.
“If you want your religious beliefs to be protected, you have to protect religious beliefs that differ from yours,” he said.
Brother Soares built his talk around a metaphor of construction. He said religion builds the pillars of society – from government to commerce, from volunteering to the arts, from schools to civic associations – “instilling in all moral direction, charitable commitment and the protection of dignity. All layers and dimensions complement each other.
“Religious freedom is the architecture of a healthy society,” he said. “It keeps the various parts in place, makes room for the expression of conscience and allows differences to confront each other without violence. Without this infrastructure, society breaks down into clumps of contention, grievances, truth claims, and power struggles. Left to our own devices, people fall back on their old protective instincts.
The religious freedom framework rests on a dual foundation of law and culture, Elder Soares said.
“A fair legal system and a culture of respect work together to protect citizens from the storms of ignorance and bigotry,” he said.
The panel was the first of a three-day symposium on freedom of religion or belief that organizers say is the first of its size and scope in Brazil.
“This is a unique event due to the diversity and high level of representatives and delegates who attend,” Alves said. “It brings together for three very intense days an interdisciplinary group of religious leaders, scholars, lawyers and professionals from across the country and around the world in a major Brazilian city.”
Arco outlined Adventists’ historic support for religious freedom and pledged to help symposium attendees.
He quoted Brother Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—”Religious freedom is in the DNA of the Adventist Church”—and himself said, “We believe that forums like this are very important. We are at your disposal.”
Another event organizer, Gary Doxey of the International Center for Legal and Religious Studies at Brigham Young University, said Brazil is passionate about supporting religious freedom, but if there is a predominance of religious harmony, understanding can improve.
“It’s a good start to reach out to increase understanding,” he said.
This resonated with Sheikh Mohammed Al Bukai, imam and director of religious affairs for the National Union of Islamic Entities in Brazil.
Sheikh Al Bukai said a peaceful life always starts with education. In an interview, he said Brazil is “a fine example of religious harmony” but as a minority religion, Muslims here must work to clarify their beliefs in the face of negative international propaganda.
“I have come to this symposium to reaffirm the duty we all have to emphasize that religious freedom is sacred to all human beings,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday afternoon, Elder Soares led Cardinal Orani Tempesta, Catholic Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, through the new Latter-day Saint Temple in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Tempesta was accompanied by Deacon Nelson Augusto dos Santos Águia, secretary of the Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro.
Deacon Águia represented Cardinal Tempesta on the panel Wednesday evening. He thanked Elder Soares for the open house during his address to the panel.
He spoke clearly of the need for religious believers to follow divine examples and scriptures and to practice tolerance towards one another and everyone.
“God is not the God of Catholics,” Deacon Águia said. ” God is God. If someone says I love God, but says, “I hate my brother,” he is lying. If they hate their brother, how can they love God?
He said that religious people who express hatred are hypocrites.
“If we can sum up the life of Jesus, that is synthesis. Love for God necessarily includes love for our brothers and sisters,” he said. “I’m sorry to state the obvious, but the obvious is forgotten.”
Brother Soares agreed.
“Today’s media environment pushes people to see these differences as a winner-takes-all battle – a damaging worldview that says you have to lose for me to win,” he said.
Balancing competing interests is a more humane practice for democracy than war pitting against each other, Elder Soares added.
“In the political and civic arena, one way to establish the common good is to take an equitable approach for all,” he said. “Complex issues such as immigration, sexuality, identity and religion require additional empathy.”