In case any of you are unaware, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormon). I go to BYU, a Church owned school where religion classes are required to help us develop a belief or greater understanding of our relationship with God. This semester, I have the wonderful opportunity of taking a World Religion’s class and so far (all two classes into the semester) I absolutely LOVE it! And all we’ve discussed is why we should learn about other religions apart from our own. Let me tell you though, that discussion was enlightening and inspiring for me and gave me insight to how much this class will help me in a world where religion is a part of just about everyone’s lives but most people believe a lot of different (yet also the same) things than me.
First let me ask you this: Do you have family members or friends who believe differently than you? I guarantee that all of you answered yes to that question. At some point or another in your life, you’ll encounter at least one person who does not share your beliefs. Next question: Why do you think it would be important to understand them and their beliefs? There’s no right or wrong answer to that, but I’ll share why I think it’s important.
The first thought that comes to my mind when I’m asked that question is that I need to understand other’s beliefs because it will help me to understand them. I’ll be able to relate to them better if I understand why they do things the way they do or why they say certain things. And understanding is key. Nobody likes to be misunderstood, especially when it comes to personal beliefs. I can point out so many events in history when the Lord’s people have been misunderstood so badly that it led to massacres and wars, even just in the past couple centuries.
So then the next question for me is: How do we understand? Simple – by listening. We often get so excited about sharing what we know and believe that we’re constantly thinking about the next thing we’re going to say to the person rather than actually listening to them and asking THEM questions. As you do learn to listen and ask inspired questions, I guarantee you that the Spirit will testify of truths that they share with you. But wait a second… Don’t Latter-day Saints think they’re the only ones with truth? Au contraire! We believe that Christ’s Church has the fulness of the Gospel, which means we have the essential things that are necessary for eternal salvation (specifically the true Priesthood and all saving ordinances). However, we do NOT believe that we have all of the truth and nobody else does. Honestly, I think we have a very small part of the truth. Remember how there are actually TWELVE tribes of Israel? Well, the Bible is only one tribe (Judah), the Book of Mormon is another (Ephraim, from Joseph). There are TEN other tribes who I’m sure have kept some sort of record that we don’t know about. It only makes sense because isn’t Heavenly Father a loving, just and merciful God? If so, why would He only give the truth to one group of people? That’s just it – He wouldn’t. 2 Nephi 29:12 says: “For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.” I have no doubt that there are truths in all religions, though some of them may be a lot more twisted from the original than others. I also have no doubt that there truths out there that we don’t even know about yet.
Not only is it good for us to learn and understand, it’s a commandment. Modern day revelation was given in 1832-33 that says:
“78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; 79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms— 80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you” (D&C 88:78-80).
As we learn more and more, not just about science and math and music and so forth but about religion and customs and beliefs as well, we will gain a greater understanding of who God is, His nature and personality, and His goals and what He has in store for us. God uses other people, NOT JUST MEMBERS OF THE LDS CHURCH, to accomplish His work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). My professor shared a quote by Gerald E Jones that addresses members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who often judge others for believing differently. It states:
“Anyone who carefully obeys all laws outside of the LDS Church is obviously trying to do right. We should not condemn their beliefs, but rejoice in their righteous desires…”
So Jews who carefully follow the Law of Moses, Christians who are baptized and try to do good, Muslims who travel to Mecca, Buddhists, Hindus and so many others who try to follow the laws and commandments they believe in are doing what THEY KNOW TO BE RIGHT. They believe in God and they are trying to follow Him in the ways they know how.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and other religions, too, I’m sure) don’t often realize when they’re being offensive or forceful. We aren’t perfect and sometimes we forget that in all actuality, we are taught to embrace ALL truths. We only try to share what we know to be true because it makes us so happy and we want everyone to be happy! (see Elder Bednar’s talk “Come and See” from October 2014 General Conference where he addresses that exact topic) But even so, every single one of us needs to keep in mind and try to understand other people’s view points. Their lives have different trials, different experiences, different religions and different educations than us. They are different from us but that only means we should learn more about them rather than shun them and tell them they’re wrong. Because who knows…. Maybe they’re telling the truth… Maybe you’re BOTH telling the truth.
I testify that truth is truth and will never EVER change because it’s truth. I know that I don’t know everything. I know I’m not perfect and I often can come across as pushy or overwhelming or misunderstanding as I try to share what I know is true with people who don’t think the same as me. But I think as I grow in my knowledge of other religions, I’ll get better at knowing how to have spiritual discussions rather than arguments where both of us think we’re right and the other is wrong. I know I’ll improve in my understanding of truths in every part of the world and with that, I know I’ll become better every day as I learn to incorporate those foreign truths into my own daily life. I testify that God works in mysterious ways to show His love for His children. He gives each of us knowledge and understanding so that we will each personally have the opportunity to come to know His truths in ways that we can understand and do our best to follow.
We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and times. Yet we are still all Children of God who loves us enough to share with us the truths of eternity.