Education Week: Speaker encourages Latter-day Saints to learn from other religions

BYU professor Alonzo Gaskill speaks at Education Week about the importance of making room for holy envy. (Addie Blacker)

BYU Church history and doctrine professor Alonzo Gaskill said every religion has worthwhile practices and is worthy of study. Gaskill spoke on the topic of “holy envy” at an Education Week presentation Monday.

Holy envy is the ability to recognize goodness in other religions — even to the point of wishing your own religion incorporated similar practices, beliefs or methods of worship. Gaskill said this admiration of, and even longing for, other religions does not and should not destroy faith in one’s own religion.

“We don’t have to give anything up in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to have holy envy, except personal prejudices that we struggle with,” Gaskill said.

He cited studies in which members of the Church reported that learning about other religions strengthened their testimonies and made their views of other religions more positive.

Gaskill shared a spiritual experience his daughter had at their family’s annual Hanukkah celebration. Though Hanukkah is not typically celebrated by Christians, their family’s observation of the holiday brought a spirit of peace and light into their home during a heavily commercialized time of year.

He went on to share beliefs and practices from many world religions which he said have ignited holy envy within him and subsequently improved his personal worship.

The followers of Zoroastrianism, for example, wear an undershirt and belt similar in look and purpose to the garments worn by adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By holding the belt during their five daily prayers, Zoroastrians remember their covenant and duty to perform good works, thoughts and deeds.

Gaskill expressed holy envy for their dedication and precision in remembering the significance of their religious clothing and said he wishes Latter-day Saints were equally careful and reverent in the wearing of the temple garments. He noted a similar longing when considering religions such as Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox, whose belief in transubstantiation causes them to partake of their sacrament with reverence and solemnity.

Islam, a religion which Gaskill noted outsiders often regard with prejudice and misunderstanding, teaches the doctrine of grace thoroughly and repeatedly throughout its holy text, the Quran. Gaskill said he wishes Latter-day Saints put more emphasis on grace — a doctrine Church members believe in but often neglect, focusing instead on works.

Latter-day Saint doctrine embraces the presence of truth and goodness in all other religions and philosophies. Gaskill quoted Joseph Smith, who said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”

Gaskill concluded his presentation by testifying that God can and does work through members of other faiths. He encouraged Latter-day Saints to learn about other religions and employ this principle of holy envy.

“As we have holy envy, much of our prejudice will be removed, but our testimony that God is there, and that He’s real, and that He cares and that He loves us, will be increased,” Gaskill said. “We can have our own spiritual encounters as we engage with people of other traditions.”

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