My understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been greatly improved by the teachings of religious men and women over the ages, many of whom were never actually members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Should this surprise anyone?
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes . . . We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons."
Our beloved Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley admonished us: "There is too much of intolerance in the world. There is too much of it in our own society. I once listened to a beautiful prayer offered by a Greek-American . . . It was an expression of gratitude to the Almighty and a plea for His favor . . . I recognized his sincerity and told him of my appreciation. I sat one evening at the table of a Jewish friend. The prayer which he uttered upon his guests and upon the table at which we sat was beautiful and moving. I was grateful for what I heard . . .
"Not only must we be tolerant, but we must cultivate a spirit of affirmative gratitude for those who do not see things quite as we see them," President Hinckley continued. "We do not in any way have to compromise our theology, our convictions, our knowledge of eternal truth . . . (But) we must learn appreciation and respect for others who are as sincere in their beliefs and practices as are we."
There is much we can learn from others. Let me share a few from so many in an eclectic list that have spiritually educated me.
Linda Brent was born into slavery around 1813. So desperate was Linda's desire for freedom that she spent nearly seven years hiding in a 9 x 7 by 3-feet high attic waiting until she was finally able to escape to the North. Even there she met people who treated her as an inferior simply because of the color of her skin. With influence spanning the decades she tutored me about inclusion rather than prejudice as she lived one year with Isaac and Amy Post, anti-slavery pioneers. She wrote of them that they were "practical believers in the Christian doctrine of human brotherhood. They measured a man's worth by his character, not by his complexion. The memory of those beloved and honored friends will remain with me to my latest hour."
Teresa of Avila was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1622. She helped me see the Atonement from a perspective other than my own when she taught: "May it please His Majesty (Christ) to give us understanding of how much we cost him . . . and that we must work in order to enjoy his glory . . . Test us, Lord . . . so that we may know ourselves."
From the Catholic nun Maria Celeste to her father, Galileo Galilei, upon hearing of the death of her aunt and Galileo's sister, I was reminded of God's love and our need to trust Him when she wrote: "Father . . . We share deeply in your grief, (and) you would do well to draw even greater comfort from contemplating (that) . . . we are all of us here on Earth like strangers and wayfarers, who soon will be bound for our true homeland in Heaven . . . Be consoled and . . . put yourself in His hands, for, as you know so well, that is what He wants of you."
From the great astronomer himself, I was taught the benefits that come from tribulation. Galileo wrote: "Whatever the course of our life we should receive (it) as the highest gift from the hand of God . . . We should accept misfortune not only in thanks, but in infinite gratitude to Providence, which by such means detaches us from an excessive love for Earthly things and elevates our minds to the celestial and divine."
Gandhi, the great practitioner of non-violent resistance, who led the fight that freed India, put into words his practice and the basis for his success: "Power is of two kinds . . . One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective."
A single phrase from the Koran describes Satan as "the whisperer," and for the rest of my life I will ever have that image of Satan and his minions lurking beside me constantly whispering falsehoods in an attempt to deceive.
When so many people, in times of crisis, choose to blame God, the renowned Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, reminded me why there is suffering in the world and its source: "The possibility of pain is inherent in the very existence of a world where souls can meet. When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for 4/5ths of the suffering of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork."
Finally, returning to Joseph Smith, the great prophet of the restoration, who warned: "All the religious world is boasting of righteousness: it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness."
We cannot be self-righteous and call ourselves worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, tolerance and respect must be our watchwords.
(Kristine Wardle Frederickson is currently a PhD candidate in modern European, Religious and Women's History at the University of Utah while she teaches in the History, Honors, Women's Studies and Religion Departments at BYU. A California native, she enjoys family, travel, reading, sports and sorely misses the beach. She and her husband, Reid, are the parents of six children.)