SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told Bloomberg Television’s Mike Schneider recently that “there should be a wonderful relationship with all people of all religious persuasions.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, acknowledged that Mormons and others may not agree on all aspects of theology but maintained that fellow believers in God need to band together for the good of humanity.
“We are all the sons and daughters of God, and we all ought to be in a position to say, ‘Let’s work together and try to solve some of the really tremendous social problems that I think every country is facing,’” Elder Ballard said.
The interview originally aired on Bloomberg Television last month but has been rebroadcast several times recently on Brigham Young University Television.
Interfaith dialogue and collaboration are not new principles for Mormons. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the Church’s early years, when misunderstanding and persecution motivated leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to start new communities in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and then in the Intermountain West of the United States, Mormons have a history of reaching out to others, regardless of religious affiliation.
In 1879, Father Lawrence Scanlon, a Catholic official assigned to Utah, planned a meeting of his southern Utah parishioners but lacked a meeting place in the St. George area. Mormon leaders in the town offered the use of their tabernacle for the Catholic Mass and asked their own choir to prepare the Latin musical text for the service. When the building did not fill up on the day, Mormons occupied the empty seats as a measure of support.
As the Church has grown in membership — from six original members in 1830, when it was organized, to more than 13 million today — its resources and capacity to make an impact beyond Mormon congregations have also increased.
Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs a significant worldwide humanitarian and welfare program. An important component in that effort is the growing set of partnerships with international relief organizations sponsored by other faiths. Such working relationships are forged to improve effectiveness in responding to natural disasters such as tsunamis, floods and earthquakes as well as other catastrophes.
The Church has worked with Catholic Relief Services on a number of projects. Earlier this year a Latter-day Saint donation assisted Catholic Relief in its work to support tens of thousands of Kenyans after post-election violence in that country.
“The tradition of collaboration between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Catholic Relief Services goes back over 20 years,” CRS president Ken Hackett told humanitarian Internet site ReliefWeb in 2005. “During the great Ethiopia famine of the mid-80s, the LDS Church was both forthcoming and most generous in its collaboration with Catholic Relief Services operations. And ever since that time, a bond was struck that carried our collaboration into Russia, the Far East, other parts of Africa and to Eastern Europe.”
For Mormons, efforts like these are based on both need and practicality. “It’s simply driven by the idea that there are people in need,” said Garry Flake, director of Church Humanitarian Emergency Response, “and we reach out where an organization has a strength that we can match up to.”
According to Flake, the Church is currently partnering with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in providing approximately 800,000 pounds of assistance to Kenya, including hygiene kits, ATMIT baby supplement, newborn kits and emergency medical modules. These supplies are needed because of the displacement of thousands due to political unrest as well as weather-related issues in the country.
Containers are en route and expected to arrive in Kenya within the next week or two. A volunteer Latter-day Saint humanitarian missionary couple will work with UMCOR to distribute supplies.
“We selected to work with UMCOR because of the strength of their organization in Kenya,” says Flake. “UMCOR works in more than 80 countries worldwide and focuses on response to disasters that overwhelm a community’s ability to recover on its own.”
Beyond responding to worldwide needs, Mormons often partner with neighbors in their individual communities to address local concerns. For example, when the supply of peanut butter ran low at the Houston, Texas, food bank, the local interfaith council, “Faiths Together,” asked the local Mormon cannery to replenish the supplies. Sylvia Campbell of the Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church enlisted volunteers from her congregation.
“We have to work together; there are so many problems,” Campbell explained. “When faith groups work together, they get to know each other better and that tears down barriers. Cooperation increases our individual abilities and also increases scale.”
This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.