News Release

Our Whole Society Conference 2022

Bridging the religious and secular divide through dialogue

“Religious freedom is the first of our freedoms. It underpins all other rights,” Irwin Cotler, the International Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, declared at this year’s Our Whole Society (OWS) conference. Sponsored by the All-Party Parliamentary Interfaith Caucus and the Canadian Interfaith Conversation (CIC), the conference has brought together Canadians in conversation since 2013. As a participating member of the CIC, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports OWS’s purpose to bridge the religious and secular divide through dialogue in order to build a more whole society.

On May 11, 2022, the OWS conference kicked off with a reception on Parliament Hill. About 40 parliamentarians and faith leaders gathered to launch the two-day event, which included a presentation by U.N. Special Rapporteur Dr. Ahmed Shaheed and a panel discussion that addressed “The Role of Faith Communities in Fostering Unity During the Pandemic.” The virtual events allowed participants to engage in conversations addressing religious freedom.

Sandra Pallin, national communication director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a member of the OWS steering committee, emphasized, “One of the basic tenets of our faith is to claim the privilege of worshipping according to the dictates of our own conscience and allowing all others that same privilege (see Articles of Faith 1:11). Our Whole Society’s objectives are consistent with our beliefs that we can, and must, continue to explore new ways of living together respectfully and inclusively. Our national and religious success depends on it. It was Christ who admonished, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ (John 13:35). OWS provides us with the opportunity to both contribute and learn from each other.”

Promoting Freedom of Religion Abroad

On May 11, Shaheed spoke about “Promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief Abroad: Exploring Canada’s Role.” This event was held in association with the All-Party Parliamentary Interfaith Caucus.

In the conference’s opening address, Shaheed offered the following suggestions for how to promote freedom of religion or belief abroad:

  1. Make a commitment to promote and respect human rights locally and abroad.
  2. Try to build synergy across diverse elements and programs.
  3. Form better coalitions.
  4. Encourage better monitoring worldwide of human rights, especially of freedom of religion.
  5. Remember the intersectional nature of dealing with this problem.
  6. Build capacity in faith communities.
  7. Engage and negotiate with those who do not agree with you.
  8. Find ways to be nuanced; create more understanding.
  9. Remember that countries are not monolithic; listen to communities and build where they are at.
  10. Use development as a tool.
  11. Education, education, education.
  12. Keep Canada an open space for those who face religious persecution.

The Role of Faith Communities in Fostering Unity During the Pandemic

On May 12, Sheba Birhanu, associate director of partnerships at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, moderated a discussion about the role of faith communities in fostering unity during the pandemic. Discussion centred on how the pandemic often brought out the best in Canadians, but it also exposed and exacerbated fault lines in the society through sometimes heated and bitter protests and counterprotests.

Participants discussed how faith communities could heal these divisions and foster social cohesion and Canadian unity. Their hope was for religious institutions to hear and understand each other and to respect differing points of view.

Panel members included John Longhurst, faith reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press; Dr. Joanne Langley, professor at Dalhousie University and co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force; and Nina Karachi-Khaled, president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

Bruce Clemenger from Evangelical Fellowship of Canada also moderated a roundtable on the contributions of faith communities during the pandemic.

Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church, taught, “God loves all His children equally.”  It follows, therefore, that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints see interfaith gatherings as a form of family reunion, where God’s children can safely, respectfully and lovingly engage.

Contributed by Gail Newbold, Canada Communication Council

Read the story in French

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