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He Inviteth All to Come unto Him and Partake of His Goodness

Brothers and Sisters, aloha. It has been the great privilege and blessing for my wife Jennifer and I to study, in addition to the restored gospel, the history, beliefs and practices of those of other faiths. Our lives have been enriched because of this. We have come to know, and I formally bear my witness at the beginning of this devotional that all good comes from Christ (see Moroni 7:24) that he does only that which is good for the world because he loves the world (see 2 Nephi 26:24) that he is involved in the lives of all his children on the earth and that he invites all to come to him and partake of his goodness (see 2 Nephi 26:33). I also have found wisdom in the admonition given by President Hinckley regarding our relations with those of other faiths:

“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 which will be helpful in your own life.” (“Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, Dec. 1995, 66–67)

My life has been blessed, my testimony and understanding of the gospel has been deepened, and my discipleship strengthened by my study of the beliefs and practices of those of other faiths and by my interactions with devout followers of different religious traditions.

I take this opportunity to address those of you who will go throughout the world, seeking, in President McKay’s words, to establish peace internationally. In the world where you and I live, we will live among those of other faiths. Some of you may reside in places where the Church is a minority, some where it is a majority. In either condition, it is crucial that the relations we have towards the people, the teachings and the practices of other faiths be properly oriented. The Lord has a work for us to do and that work will be helped by fostering a positive attitude towards those other faiths—how we see them, how we speak about and treat them, how we work with them in righteous causes.

In this short time I cannot teach you all there is to know, but rather I hope to share with you a general attitude and a perspective I have found helpful and that will serve well in interactions with those of other faiths.

But, before I go any further, we must have a quiz. Those of you have had courses from me know in most my classes we start every lesson with a quiz.

1. In what way are the following hymn texts similar?

There is a green hill far away,Without a city wall,Where our dear Lord was crucifiedWho died to save us all. (Hymn 194)

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;Change and decay in all around I see;O thou who changest not, abide with me. (Hymn 166)

He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly Friend,He lives and loves me to the end;He lives, and while He lives, I’ll sing;He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King. (Hymn 136)

I think of His hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?No, no! I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,Until at the glorified throne I kneel at His feet. (Hymn 193)

Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning!Joy to the lands that in darkness have lain!Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning;Zion in triumph begins her glad reign. (Hymn 42)

(Answer: Though there may be many similarities, all five of these hymn texts were written by non-Latter-day Saints, as are many of the hymns we know and that play such an important part of our worship. Please note the love and devotion and understanding these express and remember how our lives are blessed by them.)

2. Who said, “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius … and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”
a. Martin Luther King
b. Mohandas K. Gandhi
c. Spencer W. Kimball

(Answer: C. This found in the “Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind,” Feb. 15, 1978. Many Saints are aware of this statement, many are not.) (Found in Palmer, Spencer J. The Expanding Church. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978.)

3. Who said the following: "If I esteem mankind to be in error shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst."
a. Joseph Smith
b. John Wesley
c. George Fox

(Answer: Joseph Smith [History of the Church, 5:498–99]. Note that the prophet Joseph, the one who is surest of all of the reality of the revelations and the restoration, calls for an end to contention and a cultivation of unity and friendship among Christians. )

4. Who said the following: “Television can also harm family life: by propagating pornography and graphic depictions of brutal violence; by inculcating moral relativism and religious skepticism. . . . by carrying exploitative advertising that appeals to base instincts, and by glorifying false visions of mutual respect, of justice and of peace.”
a. The Reverend Billy Graham
b. Pope John Paul II
c. Elder M. Russell Ballard

(Answer: Pope John Paul II [Papal Wisdom: Words of Hope and Inspiration from John Paul II, Plume Printing, 1997, p. 25])

5. T or F? Muslims believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

(Answer: True)

6. T or F? Traditional Christian belief (specifically that stated in the creeds) is that the resurrection (both Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of humankind) is not a bodily resurrection but merely spiritual.

(Answer: False)

7. T or F: The golden rule (do unto others as you would be done by) occurs in some form or other in nearly all of the major world religious traditions.

(Answer: True)

I include these last three questions with the hope of causing some to be curious and want to learn more.

Thank you for indulging me in this short quiz. If you actually wrote your answers down on paper and would like credit, please put your name on it and bring it by the office of Brother Checketts, the vice-president of Academics who will help you find a way for these to count towards graduation. I’m kidding, of course.

The Attitude

I noted earlier that I wanted to outline a general attitude and a perspective we might have towards our friends of other faiths. I will address the attitude first.

Throughout his ministry, President Gordon B. Hinckley urged Latter-day Saints to show more tolerance, appreciation, respect, and love to those of other faiths. The proper attitude and approach is offered by President Hinckley:

“Let us as Latter-day Saints reach out to others not of our faith. Let us never act in a spirit of arrogance or with a holier-than-thou attitude. Rather, may we show love and respect and helpfulness toward them. We are greatly misunderstood, and I fear that much of it is of our own making. We can be more tolerant, more neighborly, more friendly, more of an example than we have been in the past. Let us teach our children to treat others with friendship, respect, love, and admiration. That will yield a far better result than will an attitude of egotism and arrogance.” (“A Time of New Beginnings,” Ensign, May 2000, 87)

This counsel to Church members is clear and unmistakable—we must be better neighbors. I note that he places some responsibility for how we may be misunderstood on the fact that we haven’t treated others as we should. More specifically for those of us involved in learning at a place such as this, President Hinckley expressed what he hoped students would gain:

“I hope that your university experience has given you an enlarged sense of tolerance and respect for those not of your faith. The true gospel of Jesus Christ never led to bigotry. It never led to self-righteousness. It never led to arrogance. The true gospel of Jesus Christ leads to brotherhood, to friendship, to appreciation of others, to respect, kindness, and love.” (“President Hinckley Speaks to BYU Alumni, President Monson to Students,” Ensign, December 2000, 65)

I take this to mean that if students don’t leave BYU–Hawaii with greater respect for those of other faiths, both students and teachers have not done what they should have done. The palpable tolerance for cultural differences that is cultivated on this campus should carry over to our relations to those of other faiths as well. Please observe, however, this remark by President Hinckley wherein he urges us to have even more than tolerance when it comes to those of other faiths:

“We can be appreciative in a very sincere way. We must not only be tolerant, but we must cultivate a spirit of affirmative gratitude for those who do not see things quite as we see them. We do not in any way have to compromise our theology, our convictions, our knowledge of eternal truth as it has been revealed by the God of Heaven. We can offer our own witness of the truth, quietly, sincerely, honestly, but never in a manner that will give offense to others.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, Deseret Book 1997, p. 663)

Note that we are being asked not merely to settle with being tolerant, but to be affirmative and grateful. We are to be positive and confirming, expressing love and showing genuine gratitude for all that is good in the teachings, practices and lives of our friends of other faiths.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid we do not always do this, even at the basic level of tolerance and respect. Having listened many years to comments made in our meetings, our classes, our informal conversations, I know we can do much better. My experience has been that much that we say is either wrong and does not truly represent what others believe, or that the tone and spirit of what we say often borders on mockery, condescension, or contention.

Please remember that we do not make the gospel any truer or more persuasive by denigrating the beliefs or practices of others. We do not make the Church any more Divine by mocking other religions or by making them seem stupid. We do not make ourselves into better saints by pointing out the bad behavior of some of those of other religions (behavior that the teachings and devout followers of those religions would probably condemn as well).

I truly am convinced that an attitude of tolerance, respect, appreciation, and love towards those of other faiths is the one the Lord would have us adopt. It will help us live and do His work in His way.

In September 2001, I was teaching a course on Islam and the Gospel at BYU in Provo. As was usually the case with this course, there were a handful of Muslim students enrolled. A few days after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, a meeting was called for Muslim and Middle Eastern students and others associated with them. This was, in part, to allow for the administration and concerned faculty to show support and give counsel and for students to talk about their experiences and perhaps express their concerns. I attended. At one point students were instructed to what to do if confronted by someone who showed anger or wanted to argue. They were also told what to do if they received any threats by emails, letters, phone calls, etc. After a bit of a discussion on these matters, a Muslim student raised his hand and, while grateful for the concern being shown, said essentially, “Of all places, there’s no place we would feel safer than at BYU.”

I submit that this could be the ideal towards which we strive in how we speak about and treat those of other faiths. Wouldn’t it be good if those of other faiths could have full confidence that their beliefs and practices would be respected, spoken of fairly, knowledgeably, and charitably, and that they themselves would feel safeguarded and valued among the Latter-day Saints?

At this time I can imagine some would ask, but what about when we are misrepresented or people don’t respect us and our beliefs? This is a good question. There may be times when we need to clarify what we believe if others have misrepresented it, though this too must be done in a spirit of kindness and love and not contention. If others show disrespect, it doesn’t help to show disrespect in kind. Remember the Saviors admonition to love our enemies and pray for them. Let us trust the Lord when he says “there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; And if any man lift his voice against you he shall be confounded in mine own due time” (D&C 71:9-10).

The Perspective

Having briefly spoken about the general attitude we should have towards those of other faiths, I turn now to talk about a general perspective on the religions of the world and on God’s concern for all peoples.

I have come to know that indeed God loves and is active in the lives of all his children. Nephi says that “The Lord … doeth that which is good among the children of men … and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness” (2 Nephi 26:33). None are forbidden. None are told not to come. All are invited—“black and white, bond and free, male and female.” We might be tempted to think that this invitation comes at the time one is offered the fullness of the gospel by those in authority. While this is an invitation that will go to all, and though the invitation and reception of the fulness of the Gospel and all God has to offer is the ultimate goal, I want to suggest that the invitation to come to Christ, to follow him, to live righteous lives and partake of his goodness comes earlier—even throughout one’s entire life.

At a very fundamental level God gives light—the light of Christ, the Spirit of Christ—to every person. This is more than simply an individual’s conscience (though it includes this). It is the light of Christ given to all—Christ’s light shining from him towards and in each individual. It invites and entices to “do good, and to love God, and to serve him” (Moroni 7:13). People are free to ignore that light, or disobey it, of course, but those who follow it are enlightened by it. Because it is the Light of Christ those who respond to it are following him and obeying him—all according to the amount of light he gives them and even if they do not know precisely that it is Christ giving them light. Consequently, such persons are headed in the general direction of Christ’s invitation to come to him and partake of his goodness. Every movement to do good, every impulse toward compassion and love, every sharing of light or knowledge or substance to lift the lives of others is a response to Christ invitation to come and partake of his goodness.

The closer one gets, the more specific the invitation becomes until finally one is offered, in God’s own way and time, and in addition to the goodness of God one has already received the fullness of the Gospel. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). The light of Christ, then, is given to all. Some may receive very much of this light, and to some even more than the light of Christ is given. President Boyd K. Packer explains:

“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. The conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost must await the restoration of the priesthood and the dispensation of the fulness of times, when all things would be revealed…. God never abandons His children. He never has abandoned this earth.” (“The Light of Christ,” Ensign, Apr 2005, 11)

Along with the light that is given to every individual and additional manifestations of the Holy Ghost that some may receive, there are other ways God invites people towards his goodness—a more outward or public way if you will. In this God uses his covenant people to do the crucial work that only they can do, but he also uses others.

Elder Orson F. Whitney explains:

“[God] is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves…. All down the ages men bearing the authority of the Holy Priesthood—patriarchs, prophets, apostles and others, have officiated in the name of the Lord, doing the things that he required of them; and outside the pale of their activities other good and great men, not bearing the Priesthood, but possessing profundity of thought, great wisdom, and a desire to uplift their fellows, have been sent by the Almighty into many nations, to give them, not the fulness of the Gospel, but that portion of truth that they were able to receive and wisely use.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1921, pp. 32-33)

This of course is consistent with the First Presidency statement cited earlier, that God gave a portion of His light to the great religious leaders and others to lift the world to a higher level of living. It is also consistent with Alma’s statement that “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” (Alma 29:8). We might rightly say that those men and women throughout the earth, now and in the past, who seek to truly love God and to love their neighbor, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry, to resist the social ills of the day, to advance the cause of truth and genuine liberty, in short, those who seek to do good in the various ways good can be done are both following God’s invitation to partake of his goodness and helping others to do the same. Again, this is something we should look for and affirm with gratitude when we see it.

In connection with the work of blessing and bettering the lives of people in the world which God does through good men and women in all places, we will find many situations when it will be helpful and imperative that Latter-day Saints work together directly with those of other faiths. In this regard, we can take our example from the way the Church has joined with various religions and organizations to overcome social ills, to defend traditional values, to feed the poor and hungry, and to offer relief and help during catastrophes.

“We can and do work with those of other religions in various undertakings in the everlasting fight against social evils which threaten the treasured values which are so important to all of us. These people are not of our faith, but they are our friends, neighbors, and co-workers in a variety of causes. We are pleased to lend our strength to their efforts.

“But in all of this there is no doctrinal compromise. There need not be and must not be on our part. But there is a degree of fellowship as we labor together.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Bear Witness of Him,” Ensign, May 1998, 4–5)

When such occasions arise, I hope we see in these joint efforts the fellowship President Hinckley speaks of and the hand of the Lord working to bless the lives of his children and to invite all to come and partake of his goodness.

The Ultimate Invitation

From Joseph Smith to our current Prophets and Apostles, a key concept with regard to missionary work and proclaiming the fulness of the gospel has been to urge others to keep all the good that they have and to come and see if we can add more.

This has been the approach we have been asked to take with our friends of other faiths. All that is genuinely good in any religion, indeed in any culture, can be kept. Some ideas and practices may have to be dropped, others modified slightly in accepting the fulness of the Gospel and membership in the Church, but generally speaking the good had before can be kept. We invite them to the more, to the fulness of all Christ has to offer. I want to suggest that we can’t effectively and honestly invite people to receive more if we don’t show respect and reverence to the good they have and if, individually and as a people, we haven’t truly embraced the more God has given us.

One Sunday many years ago in my home ward in southeast Idaho (a predominantly LDS community suffering from a generally casual attitude toward the Church that many such communities suffer), an eight year old girl had been baptized the day before. At that time children whose families were members were confirmed on the day after their baptism on Saturday—usually Fast Sunday. After being confirmed, and after the congregation had partaken of the Sacrament, the meeting was opened for testimonies. At some point the young girl got up and came to the podium. Clearly impressed by her experience, and unprompted by her parents, she bore witness of the importance of what had happened to her. As near as I can recall she then said, “I’m grateful to have been baptized and I think it’s a shame that people don’t take their baptismal covenant more seriously.” This is someone who understood.

In my World Religions course, near the end of the semester, I ask my students what the good is that they think those who come into the Church from different religions can keep. There is much. We then turn to consider what the “more” is that we have to offer. Students bring up many things. Let me mention four of the most common:
1. Authorized Ordinances and the Gift of the Holy Ghost
2. Living Prophets and Apostles
3. The Book of Mormon and other scripture
4. Temples and Temple Covenants

These are truly wonderful blessings. Imagine if we took these things earnestly and with profound seriousness. Our covenants at baptism would orient and transform our entire lives through, in Paul’s language, the death of the old person of sin, and a resurrection into a new life in Christ (see Romans 6). We would cherish the companionship of the Holy Ghost and the righteous, sanctified life it is leading us to. We would truly pray for, sustain, and follow the Prophets and Apostles who lead us, doing our part to build God’s kingdom where we are. We would love and bring fully into our lives the teachings and witness of the Book of Mormon as it teaches so powerfully who Christ is and how to come to him and be perfected in him. We would have lives marked by the power of Godliness manifest in the ordinances of the temple where we are given a gift—an endowment—that we might more fully receive the nature of God—the attributes or power or name of Christ that we covenanted to take upon ourselves when we were baptized. The fulness of the gospel will give us a fullness of all the Lord has to give, but only if we open ourselves fully to it, only if we receive fully all the Lord has to give. I’m convinced that when our entire lives are saturated with the fulness of the gospel—when we are seeking to be Saints in the best and full sense of that word, then those who have a great deal of faith in God and who are devout followers of the light God has given them in their traditions will have good reason to pay attention to and become interested in and drawn to the fullness the Lord has to offer them. When our lives match the witness of the gospel that we bear, the hearts of the faithful will be drawn to that something or other that they see in us but that they do not yet enjoy. The Lord will draw individuals to Him and to his people in his own time and in his own way, but we must help assure that we have made a real Zion (a people who are pure in heart and a place of refuge and safety from the world) for them to come to.

Let me end with an experience I hold dear. Last Christmas vacation my wife and I were privileged to spend three weeks in Israel. The first and last weeks were in Jerusalem, a city sacred to three faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the Old City of Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a building not owned by any one Christian group, but is an interesting conglomeration of various rooms and chapels and shrines belonging to different denominations. It is built over the area where many Christians (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and other Christian churches) believe Christ was crucified, buried, and where he was resurrected. It is a different place than the Garden tomb where many Protestants believe Christ was buried and resurrected.

My wife has done much study about this Church and I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge hearing her talk and reading what she’s written about it—how it was founded, how millions of Christian pilgrims from around the world had traveled there to worship in the place where Jesus was buried and resurrected, how a particular group—the Franciscans, an order of clerics in the Roman Catholic tradition—had developed a way to teach people about what Jesus Christ has done and importance of his death and burial and resurrection. The place has an interest for Jennifer and I, not because we believe one way or another that this is the exact spot Jesus was resurrected (history has made that impossible to determine with certainty), but because of what the place and the attendant message of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ has meant and still means to the millions of Christians who have come here for nearly two millennia.

One afternoon, slowly turning to evening, we were in this Church when the Franciscan brothers were starting to lead a small procession of people through various places in the Church, following from place to place as they commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus. Where appropriate, and where I could be unobtrusive, I took pictures from a distance and with no flash. The procession through the building lasted a little under an hour or so. It paused for some time at the place where Jesus was crucified and lead eventually to the place where Jesus was believed to be buried, and also, therefore, the place where he was resurrected. The group then moved a little to the side in a section with an altar and benches. As they neared the culmination of their procession that afternoon, they were joined by a nun (probably in her late twenties or early thirties) who had just arrived at the Church. We immediately recognized, because of the habit or dress she was wearing, that she was of the same order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She appeared to be from India and this may have been her first visit in the Church. Part of the ceremony required that those following kneel. She was on the outer edge of the group—not fully in the room where they were because of the size of the group, but facing where they were. She knelt on the solid stone floor and was in that position for an extended period. After a time we noticed that tears were streaming down her face. There she was, a very short walk from where Jesus was believed to be crucified and literally just a few yards away from the place where Jesus was believed to be buried and to have resurrected. Her face reflected such humility and joy and gratitude. Jennifer and I were moved as well. I thought for only a moment to take a picture so that I could remember this happening and later use it in my classes to educate others as well, but I realized this would be imposing on a moment too personal a too sacred. We stood to the side and watched in reverence. It was a truly sublime experience. As we were leaving the building a bit later and discussing the wonder that we had seen, Jennifer exclaimed “How do you show gratitude for the Atonement of Christ?”

How, indeed. That question is one we all must ask ourselves. How do we show gratitude for all He is and all He has done for us? For my part, I hope my life is such that someday my countenance can reflect the kind of humility and radiant gratitude I saw on the face of that sister kneeling on the stone floor of the Church in Jerusalem.

More than anything else, I know that Jesus is the Christ. I testify that he truly loves all the peoples of the earth, that he is involved in their lives, and that he invites all to come to him. May we who have been blessed with the fulness of his gospel heed his invitation and come to him with all our hearts. May we be blessed to love all his children as he loves them and with that love and our lives and our witness, invite all to partake of his goodness. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.