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LDS Church
Elder Dallin H. Oaks (right) speaks during a panel discussion before the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief in the U.K. House of Lords, on June 8, 2016. To his right is Dr. Peter Petkoff of Brunel and Regent’s Park College at Oxford.

The social values provided by religion are so important to societies that a different framework should be considered for the roles of church and state, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Thursday.

Governments and religions complement each other, the LDS Church leader suggested in a lecture delivered in England at the prestigious University of Oxford, the world's oldest English-speaking school.

"Although religious freedom is unknown in most of the world and threatened from secularism and extremism in the rest," Elder Oaks said, "I speak for the ideal in which the freedoms religion seeks to protect are God-given and inherent but are implemented through mutually complementary relationships with governments who seek the well-being of all their citizens."

He said the global refugee crisis is testing the complementary functions of religion and government, and he provided details about the efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members to meet humanitarian needs.

For example, Mormons donated 25 million hours of labor last year alone in welfare, humanitarian and other LDS Church-sponsored projects around the world. Meanwhile, he said, the church has provided about $40 million a year to such projects for more than 30 years.

His suggestion Thursday of a framework of complementarity for the roles of religion and government came nine months after Elder Oaks, a trained attorney and former Utah Supreme Court justice, rejected the idea of a "wall of separation between church and state" in a newsmaking speech to judges and clergy in California.

He reaffirmed the need for a boundary, but said he would replace what he called the unfortunate separation metaphor with a new, collaborative one, a "curtain that defines boundaries but is not a barrier to the passage of light and love and mutual support from one side to another."

On Thursday, Elder Oaks quoted what he called the U.N.'s influential Universal Declaration of Human Rights as he said governments should secure religious freedom for their citizens.

"The complementary responsibilities of religion," he added, "through its adherents, are to observe the laws and respect the culture of the country that secures its freedoms. When religious freedoms are secured, such a response is a debt of gratitude gladly paid."

He said the world is bedeviled with conflicts about those general principles, but argued that they are essential to free and prosperous societies. While some criticize religion, "I, of course, maintain that religion is uniquely valuable to society," he added.

Elder Oaks provided eight examples of the social values of religion — ranging from its concept of inherent human dignity and worth to the way it plays a positive role in economic development.

He also drew a clear distinction about religious freedom and government's responsibility to secure its citizens.

"Governments ... obviously have the right to insist that all organizations, including religions, refrain from teaching hate and from actions that can result in violence or other criminal acts toward others," he said. "No country need offer sanctuary to organizations that promote terrorism. Religious freedom is no barrier to government power in any of these circumstances."

The flow of Muslim refugees bringing a different culture and religion into Europe is testing societies on political, cultural, social, financial and religious fronts, he said. Religious organizations can help.

"For example, in the year 2015 we had 177 emergency response projects in 56 countries. In addition, we had hundreds of projects that impacted more than 1 million people in seven other categories of assistance, such as clean water, immunization and vision care."

The LDS Church avoids one common objection "by rigorously separating our humanitarian services from our worldwide missionary efforts. Our humanitarian aid is given without regard to religious affiliation, because we want our missionary teaching to be received and considered without influence from force or food or other favors."

He said the LDS Church has three advantages. First, missionary service provides committed and experienced volunteers. Of the 25 million church service hours donated by volunteers last year, over 14 million hours were provided by missionaries, nearly 8 million by welfare and humanitarian workers and over 4 million by welfare work in wards.

Second, the financial contributions of church members allow the church to operate nimbly as it coordinates relief efforts with governments and U.N. agencies.

Third, the church can act as a global grassroots organization that can be mobilized immediately. He touched on the church's "I Was a Stranger" website and refugee relief program for all LDS women and girls and others who want to help.

A transcript of Elder Oaks' speech is available at mormonnewsroom.org.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com