Elder Oaks Gives Three Ways Believers Can Be Witnesses of God
Contributed By By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer
- Three ways to be a better witness of God:
- 1. Recognize God in prayers and greetings.
- 2. Publicly recognize the blessings of God.
- 3. Contend for the free exercise of religion.
“As believers, we have a duty to preserve the name and influence of God and Christ in our conversations, our lives, and our culture.” —Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve
Believers have a solemn religious duty to be witnesses of God, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during a devotional held at Brigham Young University-Idaho on February 25. Watch the video.
Recognizing that “we live in a world where many deny the existence of God or the significance of His commandments,” Elder Oaks told 15,000 students and faculty members gathered in the BYU-Idaho Center that believers “must affirm our religious faiths, unite to insist upon our constitutional right to the free exercise of our religions, and honor their vital roles in establishing and preserving and prospering this nation.”
Drawing from the first three Articles of Faith, Elder Oaks spoke of fundamental beliefs—in God, His Son, and the Holy Ghost; that all people will be punished for their own sins; and that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved.
“In contrast, today many deny or doubt the existence of a God and insist that all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected at will,” he said. “Why do I speak of such basic truths as the existence of God and the reality of the absolutes of right and wrong that govern our behavior? Sometimes the most needed things we can teach are things we tend to take for granted. We can neglect simple basic truths because we assume they are understood by all, but they are not.”
The denial of God or downplaying His role in human affairs has become pervasive today, Elder Oaks said. The glorifying of human reasoning has had both good and bad effects. Although the work of science has made many improvements to life, the rejection of divine authority as the ultimate basis of right and wrong by those who have substituted science for God has consequences, causing many religious people to ask why the will of anyone—any philosopher or member of the Supreme Court of the United States—is more relevant to moral decisions than the will of God.
“Those who have used human reasoning to supersede divine influence in their lives have diminished themselves and cheapened civilization in the process,” Elder Oaks said.
He spoke of two methods of gaining knowledge—the scientific method and the spiritual method. The spiritual method begins with faith in God and relies on scriptures, inspired teaching, and personal revelation.
“There is no ultimate conflict between knowledge gained by these different methods because God, our omnipotent Eternal Father, knows all truth and beckons us to learn by them both,” he said.
Prophecies of the last days foretell great opposition to inspired truth and action. Some prophecies concern the anti-Christ, and others speak of the great and abominable church.
Anti-Christs—an example being Korihor in the Book of Mormon—include those who “denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22), who deny the existence of God, and who ridicule the faith of those who believe in what cannot be proven as they aggressively deny a godly existence they cannot disprove.
“This is the belief applied by many in the popular media and in current peer pressure,” he said. “‘Break free of the old rules. Do what feels good to you. There is no accountability beyond what man’s laws or public disapproval impose on those who are caught.’ Behind such ideas is the assumption that there is no God or, if there is, He has given no commandments that apply to us today.”
Secular humanism, or the rejection of an unprovable God and the denial of right and wrong, is very influential in the world of higher education and is found in teachings of faculty members in many colleges and universities today, said Elder Oaks. “They would see themselves as having some external standards of right and wrong, though absolute standards not based on belief in God are difficult to explain.”
He said secular humanists, who declare their reliance on “the tests of scientific evidence” and who formally reject “traditional religious morality” are fulfillment of Book of Mormon prophecy of those who “live without God in the world” (Mosiah 27:31).
Another challenge faced by believers today is the influence of the “great and abominable church” and other “churches.”
“Since no religious denomination—Christian or non-Christian—has ever had ‘dominion’ over all nations of the earth or the potential to bring all the Saints of God down into ‘captivity,’ this great and abominable church must be something far more pervasive and widespread than a single ‘church’ as we understand that term today,” he said. “It must be any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God. And the ‘captivity’ into which this ‘church’ seeks to bring the Saints will not be so much physical confinement as the captivity of false ideas.”
Despite the difficulties surrounding believers today, it is often through opposition and difficulty that spiritual growth takes place. The scriptures also teach that “He will deliver those who put their trust in Him.”
Elder Oaks gave three suggestions of things believers can do to be better witnesses of God “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9), in response to the current conditions of the world.
1. Recognize God in prayers and greetings
“In our private personal and family prayers we should ask God to help us and our neighbors and leaders recognize God our Creator and the right and wrong established by His commandments,” he said. “We should do this for the good of His children everywhere.
“We should also assert ourselves against the current trend to refrain from religious references even in private communications. In recent years the inclusion of religious symbols and reverent words in Christmas greetings and sympathy cards have almost disappeared. When we make choices on these kinds of communications, we should not participate in erasing sacred reminders from our personal communications. As believers, we have a duty to preserve the name and influence of God and Christ in our conversations, our lives, and our culture.”
2. Publicly recognize the blessings of God
“A second thing believers can do to stand as a witness of God is to support public recognition of the blessings of God,” Elder Oaks said. “This seeks to counter the diminishing mention of religious faith and references to God and His blessings in our public discourse.”
He pointed out the contrast between current public documents and the rhetoric of government leaders with the similar documents and words of leaders in the first two centuries of the nation. In contrast, there is evidence today of deliberate efforts to edit out references to God and the influence of religion in the nation’s founding and preservation, he noted.
“What can we do about this?” he asked. “First, we can set the right example in our family and Church teachings by acknowledging the blessings of the Lord in the establishment of this nation. “To do this 'in wisdom and order' we should not seem to deny that this nation includes and is blessed by citizens of Jewish, Muslim, atheist, and other non-Christian persuasions. But we should speak truthfully of the fact that this nation was founded by persons and leaders who were predominantly Christians and who embodied the principles of their faith in the constitution, laws, and culture of this nation.”
Believers should also contend for the inclusion in textbooks and teaching in school settings of accurate accounts of great historical documents that recognize and invoke the blessings of God in the founding and preservation of this nation, he said.
He referred to George Washington’s farewell letter to the 13 colonies when he retired as commander in chief of the Continental Army, where he ended with a prayer to “Almighty God,” concluding in the name of “Jesus Christ our Lord.” Elder Oaks also mentioned Benjamin Franklin’s call for prayer at the Constitutional Convention and when Abraham Lincoln invoked the blessings of God in many of his formal proclamations. “Such acknowledgements and pleas are part of our history and should not be omitted from our memories or our culture,” Elder Oaks said.
3. Contend for the free exercise of religion.
To contend for the free exercise of religion is more difficult, because it requires cooperative action by believers of various faiths, he said.
“We should press officials in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of governments to honor the constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion.”
Emphasizing examples of current concern, Elder Oaks first spoke about public prayer.
“Prayer occurs when anyone addresses the Divine Being, whatever their concept of God and however they choose to address Him,” he said. “Regardless of the content of a prayer, which will vary according to the belief of the one who prays, when a prayer is offered in a public setting it is important as an affirmation or symbol of a group’s common dependence upon and reverence for God. This is the nature of the prayers offered at the beginning of legislative assemblies or council meetings and in oaths administered to precede court testimony or official installations.”
For more than 50 years this symbol of prayer has been under legal attack, first in public school classrooms and now in college graduations, city council meetings, and other public settings, Elder Oaks noted.
“Whatever the designated pray-er’s concept of God and whatever his or her religious persuasion or language of prayer, I hope the citizens of this nation can continue to witness their belief in God by the symbol of prayer, wisely and tolerantly administered. That is worth contending for.”
Believers should also be alert to oppose the potential significance of some government officials and public policy advocates describing the First Amendment guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion as merely “freedom of worship.”
“The guarantee of ‘free exercise’ protects the right to come out of our private settings, including churches, synagogues, and mosques, to act upon our beliefs, subject only to the legitimate government powers necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare,” he said. “Free exercise surely protects religious citizens in acting upon their beliefs in public policy debates and in votes cast as citizens or as lawmakers.”
Also, believers should use their political influence to resist current moves to banish from legislative and judicial lawmaking all actions based on religious convictions and motivations, Elder Oaks said. “A dangerous recent example of this was the opinion of the single federal district judge who invalidated the California Proposition 8 constitutional amendment.
“The precedent of his decision on the inappropriateness of presumed religious or moral motivations as a basis for lawmaking was used by the lawyers who persuaded another federal district judge to invalidate the Utah constitutional provision and laws affirming the traditional limitation on marriages to one man and one woman. Then, when an eminent lawyer was hired to take the appeal, he was criticized by the Human Rights Campaign for having religious motivations for his decision to defend traditional marriage. Where will this illogical attack on religious motivations end?”
It is through developing a respect for other religious people and their beliefs—not necessarily accepting their beliefs, but respecting their beliefs—that will bring people together to defend the nation’s traditional culture of belief in God and the acknowledgement of His blessings. Religion is essential to a nation’s democracy and prosperity, taught Elder Oaks.
“The consequence of our failing to speak out as witnesses of God are evident in our Savior’s teaching about the salt that has ‘lost its savour.' Mixed with other substances—just as we can be diluted by the values of the world—it loses its unique influence on the mixture of the mass. …
“My fellow students, we are the ‘salt of the earth.’ We must retain our savour by living our religion and by asserting ourselves as witnesses of God. When we do so, we associate ourselves with those who will enjoy the ultimate victory of truth and righteousness, when ‘every knee shall bow … and every tongue shall confess to God’ and the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we worship and whose servants we are.”