Elder L. Whitney Clayton, General Authority Seventy and Senior President of the Quorums of the Seventy, opened the 2018 Religious Freedom Annual Review by discussing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ pioneer history and how it continues to define church members today.
Elder Clayton highlighted the value of religious freedom, which he said has allowed LDS members to act on their religious convictions and build their faith in God.
“Our faith is the substance of our soul. It is the marrow right down to our bones,” Elder Clayton said. “It’s part of our identity as Latter-day Saints, and it is still who we are.”
He said faith enabled about 3,000 LDS pioneers to leave their homes around the world to travel to what would become Utah, a place they could worship freely.
“The faith brought them to the fateful decision to abandon their Illinois homes, their temple and the country they loved and make the 1,300-mile trek to a barren wilderness that they would make their Zion,” Elder Clayton said.
Elder Clayton shared a story from his own family history, which he said has defined his life and faith. The story was about William Clayton, the author of the LDS hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints.” After enduring hardship while traveling westward with a handcart company, Clayton received word on April 15, 1846, that his wife, Diantha, had given birth to a healthy baby boy in Nauvoo.
“After hearing the news, (William) wrote a new song titled ‘All is Well,'” Elder Clayton said. “The song became an anthem for the pioneers.”
Elder Clayton said the song inspired faith among the early saints, and pioneers sang William’s song frequently as they worked their way to the West. He said the song, which is sung worldwide today, continues to inspire faith and “bind saints together.”
Elder Clayton encouraged the audience to offer religious freedom not only to other religions but to LGBTQ people and those who may not share traditional beliefs. He also called on businesses and institutions to accommodate religious freedom.
“No one should be denied free speech or employment rights based on their beliefs,” Elder Clayton said.
Elder Clayton also emphasized the importance of a separation of church and state and said government bodies shouldn’t have any say in the activities of religious business owners or marriage practices.
Elder Clayton used In-N-Out Burgers’ practice of printing the Bible verse John 3:16 on cups as an example of how businesses should be free to practice religious beliefs without government interference.
“Government must not be allowed to marginalize and deemphasize religious practices to purely private spheres like it is some disease or infection to be quarantined,” he said.
Elder Clayton also mentioned the importance of faith-based schools like BYU and their importance to society in fostering religious convictions.
“The importance of such schools for the perpetuation of faith among the next generation can hardly be overstated,” he said. “Tens of thousands of young church members have gathered together to receive a first-rate education and associate with others sharing the same religious convictions.”