The following is a devotional talk given on January 12, 2012 by Robert L. Millet, professor of religion and emeritus dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University.
We are involved in Outreach. Outreach requires a broader perspective on how God is working throughout the earth through men and women of all types and attitudes and religious persuasions. Fifteen years ago I read the autobiography of Billy Graham, entitled Just As I Am. It was a life-changing experience for me. I had, of course, grown up in the South watching Billy Graham crusades and thus was not completely ignorant of his prominence in the religious world. But I was not prepared for what I learned in this book. His influence for good among rich and poor, black and white, high and low-including serving as spiritual adviser to several presidents of the United States-was almost overwhelming to me. The more I read, the more I became acquainted with a good man, a God-fearing man, a person who felt called of God to take the message of Christ to the ends of the earth. I remember sitting in my chair in the living room finishing the last page of the book. As I laid the book down I let out a rather loud “Wow!” My wife, Shauna, responded with, “What did you say?” I replied, “Wow! What a life!” I remember being very emotional at the time, sensing deep down that God had worked wonders through this simple but submissive North Carolina preacher.
Not long after reading the Graham autobiography, one of my faculty colleagues at Brigham Young University drew my attention to a general conference address by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles but went on to serve as the thirteenth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “God, the Father of us all,” Elder Benson said, “uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish his purposes. It has been true in the past, it is true today, it will be true in the future.” Elder Benson then quoted the following from a conference address delivered by Elder Orson F. Whitney in 1928: “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. . . . We have no quarrel with [those of other faiths]. They are our partners in a certain sense.'”
It is my conviction that God loves us, one and all. He is our Father in Heaven, and He has tender regard for us. In spite of growing wickedness, a surprising number of men and women throughout the earth are being led to greater light and knowledge, to the gradual realization of their own fallen nature, their need for spiritual change, for greater light and truth. C. S. Lewis once stated that there are people “who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.” Lewis went on to speak of people “who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.”
One of the cardinal principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the mind-expanding concept of Christ’s eternal gospel-that Christian prophets have declared Christian doctrines and officiated in Christian ordinances since the days of Adam and Eve. It is but reasonable, therefore, that elements of truth, pieces of a much larger mosaic, should be found throughout the world in varying cultures and among diverse religious groups. Further, as the world has passed through phases of apostasy and restoration, relics of revealed doctrine remain, albeit in some cases in altered or even convoluted forms. President Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Church, explained. “If we find truth in broken fragments through the ages,” he observed, “it may be set down as an incontrovertible fact that it originated at the fountain, and was given to philosophers, inventors, patriots, reformers, and prophets by the inspiration of God. It came from him through his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, in the first place, and from no other source. It is eternal.”
I am immeasurably grateful for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but at the same time, I have found myself, more and more often, looking into the eyes of those of other faiths, sensing their goodness, perceiving their commitment, and realizing more surely that God knows them, loves them, and desires for me to love, respect, and better understand them. I have been moved and motivated by the following statement from the Book of Mormon: “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore, ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God” (Moroni 7:16).
To be involved with outreach is to comply with what Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, called the “doctrine of inclusion.” “Our doctrines and beliefs are important to us,” he taught. “We embrace them and cherish them. I am not suggesting for a moment that we shouldn’t. On the contrary, our peculiarity and the uniqueness of the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ are indispensable elements in offering the people of the world a clear choice. Neither am I suggesting that we should associate in any relationship that would place us or our families at spiritual risk.” Quoting the First Presidency message from 1978, Elder Ballard reaffirmed: “Our message . . . is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters of the same Eternal Father.” “That is our doctrine,” Elder Ballard concluded, “a doctrine of inclusion. That is what we believe. That is what we have been taught. Of all people on this earth, we should be the most loving, the kindest, and the most tolerant because of that doctrine.”
President Brigham Young explained that “we, the Latter-day Saints, take the liberty of believing more than our Christian brethren: we not only believe . . . the Bible, but . . . the whole of the plan of salvation that Jesus has given to us. Do we differ from others who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? No, only in believing more.” It is, of course, the “more” that makes many in the Christian world very nervous and usually suspicious of us. But it is the “more” that allows us to make a meaningful contribution in the religious world.
The older I get, the less prone I am to believe in coincidence. Like you, I believe that God has an individualized divine plan for you and me. I gladly and eagerly acknowledge His hand in all things, including the orchestration of events in our lives and the interlacing of our daily associations. I believe He brings people into our path who can bless and enlighten us, and I know that He brings us into contact with people whose acquaintanceship will, down the road, open doors, dissolve barriers, and further the work of the Lord. Thus our charge, in the words of President Howard W. Hunter, the fourteenth president to the Church, is to “seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the people of the earth.”
“If I esteem mankind to be in error,” Joseph Smith explained, “shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst.”