News Story

Latter-day Saints Participate in Interfaith Conference on Polarization in Canadian Society

Finding Common Ground in a Time of Polarization” was the theme of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation’s Our Whole Society (OWS) conference held May 7–9, 2023, at Martin Luther University College in Waterloo, Ontario. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of several sponsors of the event, which brought together people from all sectors of society to explore “the causes of division within our society and how to foster dialogue, justice and find common ground in Canadian civil society” (Our Whole Society 2023).

Sandra Pallin, the Church’s communication director for Canada and a member of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation’s (CIC) executive committee, noted that “the Church has been a regular supporter and sponsor of CIC’s annual conferences since 2015.” She and Michael Clifton, Kitchener Ontario Stake communication director, participated in the conference’s planning and organizing committee, led by conference chair John Milloy, a former member of the Ontario legislature and current director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College. Merrilee Fraser, Canada communication administrative assistant for the Church, provided OWS administrative support for the event.

The conference featured a variety of experts and opinion leaders, including Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada; Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s special representative on combatting Islamophobia; Professor Bob Watts, chair of Reconciliation Canada and former interim executive director of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Professor Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

Workshops and panel discussions covered a range of topics, including the experiences of Muslim women in Canada, how faith communities can address anti-Black racism, strategies for a more spiritually ethical social media, and how interfaith organizations help build bridges and navigate differences in diverse communities.

Building bridges of understanding and co-operation amongst individuals and institutions representing Canada’s varied religious and spiritual landscape is the main objective of the CIC. Daisy Arseneault, Kitchener Ontario Stake’s assistant communication director and JustServe co-ordinator, commented, “I felt strengthened and supported in my own faith as I linked arms with neighbouring members of other faiths.”

In a panel addressing how interfaith organizations help to build bridges, Clifton, who also serves on the steering committee of Interfaith Grand River in the Waterloo Region, spoke of how Christ’s example motivates his participation in interfaith dialogue. “When I consciously contemplate [Christ’s] love, I recognize it is an inclusive love. It is a love-your-enemies kind of love,” he said. “There’s no room in that kind of love for polarization.”

Pallin commented, “Events like the OWS conference are important starting places for dialogue and bridge-building if we want to increase understanding and find common ground in Canadian civil society.”

Along with the Church, other sponsors of the event were Martin Luther University College, Baha’i Community of Canada, Canadian Council of Churches, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Institute for Christian Studies, Canadian Race Relations Foundation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the United Church of Canada.

Mushure Raynor, a Latter-day Saint from Kitchener who attended the conference, described it as “a unifying experience [that was] empowering [and] reaffirming.” He felt the conference addressed his personal concern that people of faith, including many Christians, have begun to fall into polarizing positions and attitudes. He asked keynote speaker May how she dealt with the challenge of trying to help colleagues and friends move away from those positions. “You just keep on loving them,” May advised.

Church President Russell M. Nelson gave a similar message at the Church’s April 2023 general conference when he spoke about being peacemakers. Noting that “civility and decency seem to have disappeared during this era of polarization and passionate disagreements,” he called upon all to “build, lift, encourage, persuade and inspire … [and] choose to be a peacemaker. … Show that there is a peaceful, respectful way to resolve complex issues and an enlightened way to work out disagreements” (“Peacemakers Needed”).

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