Thursday, January 3, 2019

President Dallin H. Oaks on private and public interactions

President Dallin H. Oaks (born August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He became President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and also 1st Counselor in the First Presidency in January 2018.
"In dedicated spaces, like temples, houses of worship, and our own homes, we should teach the truth and the commandments plainly and thoroughly as we understand them from the plan of salvation revealed in the restored gospel. Our right to do so is protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and religion, as well as by the privacy that is honored even in countries without formal constitutional guarantees.
"In public, what religious persons say and do involves other considerations. The free exercise of religion covers most public actions, but it is subject to qualifications necessary to accommodate the beliefs and practices of others. Laws can prohibit behavior that is generally recognized as wrong or unacceptable, like sexual exploitation, violence, or terrorist behavior, even when done by extremists in the name of religion. Less grievous behaviors, even though unacceptable to some believers, may simply need to be endured if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called 'the voice of the people' (Mosiah 29:26).
"On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them' (Matthew 7:12)."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Loving Others and Living with Differences," General Conference October 2014
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The setting and audience for our interactions matters significantly. When we are in private settings such as homes and church, we are generally interacting with those who share our beliefs or for whom we have a stewardship to teach and testify. In those settings we should "teach the truth and the commandments plainly."

But in more public settings, we have the responsibility to be sensitive to the beliefs and rights of others. At times, we can have laws or other forces imposed on us that are unjust and unrighteous, and we may need to endure their consequences. But in any case, we need to learn to interact and communicate without contention:

Truly, "Followers of Christ should be examples of civility." We must love our neighbors and be sincerely interested in learning about their beliefs and customs. Sometimes, how we interact tells more about ourselves and our beliefs than what we say in the interaction.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

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