SALT LAKE CITY — On Thursday morning the call from Washington, D.C., was to love one another.
Let that sink in a bit. It came during observance of the National Day of Prayer, an annual event held on May 2. But perhaps it was drowned out by the reaction to the continued fallout from the Mueller Report and the testimony (and lack of it), by Attorney General William Barr.
Prayer? Religion? Are these things worthy of respect and public discourse? There is no question the Mueller Report, government actions, the state of the economy and our military engagements around the world necessitate attention and media coverage. But as the nation grows more secular, there is great risk of losing a freedom deemed so important that it was integral to bringing people to America and founding the country.
There is also a risk of losing the great motivating power that people of faith bring: a willingness to part with their time and their money to help others. It is becoming the great untapped resource to solve the world's problems, from poverty to climate change (stewardship of the planet) to the unthinkable, genocide.
Deseret News reporter Kelsey Dallas, in her important profile of Sam Brownback, featured on deseretnews.com and on Sunday's cover of the paper, lays bare these two important facts: 70 years ago world leaders determined that religious freedom was a universal human right. Yet today, more than 80 percent of the world's population live under "high or very high" religious restrictions.
What's gone wrong?
During the past two decades the religious freedom coverage by media has largely focused on the intersection of the rights of the religious to practice their faith and the rights of the LGBTQ community to gain respect and long-sought-for rights.
These are not mutually exclusive wants. Yet, it is often reported as a collision of views and standards. The issues and the coverage are important to bring understanding so problems can be solved, and the Deseret News has committed resources in addressing the "rights" debate, including the impact on adoptions, the bills in place across the country, the Equality Act now being debated in Washington, the effort in Utah to reach compromise and engage in civil debate to resolve housing and jobs discrimination, and most recently, efforts to ban conversion therapy for youths who identify as gay.
These are important stories and should not be ignored. But there is much more to religious liberty, and Sunday's piece on Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, gives a glimpse of that.
Another key piece of reporting concerning religious liberty was also featured in the Deseret News this past week — and largely ignored by other media — under the headline,"How the U.S and other governments are failing people of faith around the world." The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report and offered these sobering findings:
• Religious freedom is deteriorating around the world and efforts to protect it haven't kept pace with persecution.
• Surveillance, imprisonment and murder of vulnerable people of faith continues unabated.
• In 2000, the commission's report focused on Russia, Sudan and China for religious persecution. Monday's report — the 20th — included 13 others now listed as Tier 1 countries, those doing damage in this area. Another 13 tier 2 countries were also listed.
There is also great concern about violence that is being expressed in the name of religion. Hate is fomenting violence, and that is an abuse of true religious principles. A light needs to shine on all areas of suffering and violence and these abuses.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, shootings at two mosques killed 50 people. Reports this week show that that event appeared to inspire a gunman to enter a synagogue in Poway, California, last weekend and open fire.
Some will read this column and say religion is to blame for wars, shootings and many of the ills of the world. I say true religion, that expressed in Thursday's day of prayer, is to be championed and is the reason more media coverage of the oppression throughout the world is needed.
It's why the great work of Kelsey Dallas and other Deseret News reporters needs to continue to find a place in the national conversation.
In June, world religion leaders will gather in Japan for the G20 Interfaith Forum. It follows last year's meetings in Argentina that preceeded the G20 economic summit. Here's what was said following last year's forum:8 comments on this story
It was "a helpful opportunity for discourse across the ubiquitous divide between religious freedom experts and the development and humanitarian worlds. Plans were shaped for the next G20 Interfaith Forums in Japan 2019 and Saudi Arabia 2020, with a likely continuing focus on Climate Change, Children and Humanitarian issues."
Bringing forward those ideas could be a key in allowing people to live the lives they wish to live. It's time for government leaders to listen and make use of this untapped resource of motivated experts on relieving the suffering of others.
For many around the world it literally is a matter of life and death.