Gustavo Garello, For the Deseret News
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, right, member of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talks to Sharif Aly at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 26.

At a time that faith is being pushed out of the public square, religious leaders from around the world assembled in Argentina to discuss ways they can work with each other and with government organizations to impact a wide array of global issues.

Deseret News in-depth team reporter Kelsey Dallas was in Argentina to cover last week's G-20 Interfaith Forum. The event is an international gathering of religious leaders and faith-based social activists from the world's 20 leading economies.

Dallas reported, “The fifth annual G-20 Interfaith Forum features three days of panel discussions during which speakers share their on-the-ground experiences addressing issues like starvation and violence, as well as their suggestions for G-20 political leaders. This year's discussion topics included environmental protection, religious freedom law, women's rights and workplace policies.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve of Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, participated in the summit and gave two formal addresses to the gathering. He focused his remarks on the critical functions faith and religious freedom extend to communities and countries.

“Religious freedom allows religion to perform the vital function of promoting civic virtue, providing for the less fortunate and nurturing strong families and communities," Elder Christofferson said. "There is a rich scholarship addressing the social benefits of religion freely exercised.”

At a time that national and local governments around the world are experiencing dwindling resources and mounting deficits, it is counterintuitive that fewer and fewer governments acknowledge the economic impact of faith and the good works those who participate in such religious organizations bring to communities.

“Protecting and respecting religious freedom serves as a training ground for protecting and respecting other human rights and freedoms,” Elder Christofferson said. “It teaches us that government has limits: that there are aspects of life that are so sensitive and personal that the coercive jurisdiction of the state must yield to the jurisdiction of the sacred and individual conscience. Religious freedom teaches us to see the inherent dignity of each person. It teaches us first to tolerate, then to respect, and then to love our neighbor.”

Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other international faith traditions' leaders echoed that sentiment and called for action. Despite doctrinal differences, the unity of purpose and the pursuit of the collective good for humanity were evident throughout the summit.

Two weeks ago at a gathering of nearly 50,000 in Seattle, Washington, President Russell M. Nelson, president of the LDS Church, explained how the church approaches opportunities to lift people who are suffering.

“This is why the church actively engages in humanitarian service around the globe," he said. "Whether we are digging wells in Africa, providing wheelchairs to those in need in Peru, or among the first to respond after natural disasters anywhere in the world, our efforts are designed to help all mankind. No shipments are labeled: ‘For Latter-day Saints only.’”

President Nelson further stated, “We find great satisfaction in partnering with such agencies as the Red Cross, Catholic Charities and Islamic Relief for much of our humanitarian work. We care deeply for our friends and neighbors the world over and are eager to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation.”

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We applaud the global religious leaders and faith-based institutions for collaborating on tough issues like climate change and the environment. We celebrate the shared lessons learned in alleviating suffering and elevating the cause of women’s rights. And we are encouraged by the unity of diverse beliefs, spiritual traditions and causes in promoting religious liberty and the impact it can have not only on souls but on cities, communities and countries.

We hope the political leaders of these G-20 nations, who will soon gather for the G-20 economic summit, will remember the lessons of last week’s Interfaith Forum. Applying and enabling the positive power of faith on the global economy will positively affect millions around the world.