Will Peebles, Savannah Morning News
In this Aug. 13, 2107 photo, mourners listen to speakers in Savannah, Ga., at Savannah Taking Action for Resistance's candlelight vigil for the victims in Charlottesville, Va.

Peace is hardly passive. Peace, in fact, demands powerful persistence.

For more than two centuries, proactively protecting individual rights — especially religious liberty — has proven to be one of the greatest guarantors of sustained societal peace. Leaders of nations should recognize the power of religious liberty to bring about lasting peace.

This week, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, spoke to this point while receiving for the faith India’s World Peace Prize, one of the nation’s highest honors.

"Failing to appreciate the good religion does society or the nation as a whole and to accommodate religion whenever possible results in social conflict," he said. "True religion offers a stable foundation for a just and healthy society. It strengthens and ennobles nations, communities and individuals.”

There are those, of course, who cast religion as the chief instigator of conflict and war, pointing to ongoing sectarian feuds. Yet, upon greater reflection, who can find a more peaceful message than that delivered by Jesus Christ?

Although his followers quarreled and jingoistic empires carried out crusades and wars under his name, Jesus Christ’s core teaching was to love God and neighbor — to love one’s enemies, to forgive seventy times seventy, to return good for evil and to turn the other cheek.

According to the biblical record, when a lawyer asked Jesus "who is my neighbor?" he told a parable where the protagonist-hero was a Samaritan — a person from an ethnoreligious group that was despised by the cultural and religious tradition of his birth.

Today, Jesus' message is more relevant than ever. This past week, the United States witnessed harrowing acts of race-based violence in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. This paper and its owner condemned racism and prayed for peace.

When it came to light that some “among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities” asserted that the LDS Church “is neutral toward or in support of their views,” the faith issued yet another statement quoting Christ’s admonition to “love thy neighbour as thyself” and stating unequivocally: "White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a 'white culture' or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.”

Creating a culture in which ethnic and religious conflicts give way to peace and harmony requires powerful and persistent teachings, statements and actions that exemplify Christ's love, empathy and peace. It demands that civic leaders and individual citizens alike internalize Christ's soul-searching answer to that simple question: "Who is my neighbor?"