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Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty

Eight hundred years ago this month the despotic King of England begrudgingly made a deal with a powerful group of rebellious nobles, by endorsing a document we now know as Magna Carta (‘The Great Charter’). 

King John’s reluctantly-sealed peace treaty with the rebel barons was a pragmatic step in his clinging on to monarchy.

But that famous Runnymede gathering by the River Thames, around 20 miles west of central London, led to the unintended – eventual – consequence of laying the foundation for modern democracy. 

Even though nearly all of Magna Carta’s clauses have been repealed, this charter was indeed great because it established that no-one, even the king, is above the law.  Magna Carta’s influence is much greater than its ‘quaint’ language suggests – the broad principles have been drawn on widely as democratic government evolved from autocratic rule.

These mortal-made laws reflect an eternal reality – that human rights are part of a Divine plan.  Many senior international leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have underlined this vital principle. 

Elder Quentin L Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in an address at the University of Notre Dame Australia School of Law, a Catholic university in Sydney:

“Natural law or even a belief that we are accountable to God is not in fashion in much of the legal world today…But the recognition that individual rights are part of the design of a loving Creator is part of both Catholic and Latter-day Saint theology.”

Elder Cook called on “all religions [to] join together to defend faith and religious freedom in a manner that protects people of diverse faith as well as those of no faith.”  He declared: “We must not only protect our ability to profess our own religion but also protect the right of each religion to administer its own doctrines and laws.”

This approach may be a bit of a culture shock to many believers.  We may not necessarily agree with others but we must defend their rights to believe – or to not believe.

The basis of this attitude is profound respect.  To respect we need to try to understand.  As Mormons, we are increasingly part of interfaith efforts to get acquainted with members of other faith groups and also to be party in public consultations on the relevance of religion within modern society.

One recent example is submissions by Church representatives to The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life  At the London meeting, we said:

“Those of us who have been involved in interfaith work for many years have found our lives enriched by the experience of learning about and understanding the faith of others and what it means to them.  Those who are involved in this way have no uneasiness with the diversity of religion and belief in our society. 

“We learn that people of faith have a lot in common but in their theological differences or variations of emphasis, each friend reminds us of values that are probably important to all of us.  This brings the faiths closer together institutionally and their individual members feel great spiritual benefit and get a sense of the love of God.”

Recognising individual freedom of choice, in the government of a country and with personal spiritual matters, is the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – ‘…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).

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