This church is for everyone everywhere because Jesus Christ is the Savior of everyone everywhere.
It is my responsibility to conduct sacrament meeting in our ward this month. On 11 August 2019, we had some extra time at the end of the meeting, so I took the opportunity to offer a few words on recent events. I should note that the majority of the members of our ward are immigrants.
I should also note that I spoke extemporaneously. Though this is not a verbatim transcript, it conveys the same thoughts and ideas I shared.
A week ago, the news was filled once again with reports of mass shootings here in the United States, last Saturday in El Paso, Texas, and then less than 24 hours later in Dayton, Ohio. These came just days after another shooting in Gilroy, California. There may be discussion and debate for some time to come over the motives behind the shootings in Dayton and Gilroy, but in El Paso the motive is quite apparent. If you have seen, heard, or read the news in recent days you are likely aware of that motive and there is little need for us to repeat it in this setting.
But I want to take a moment to contrast that motive with what happens within the walls of this building. To do so, I think it is helpful for us to review briefly the early history of our church. Joseph Smith, the first president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Prophet of the Restoration — had a vision in which he saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. They instructed Joseph to organize a new church, a restoration of the church that Jesus himself organized during his mortal ministry. That church was organized in 1830 here in New York (not in New York City but in western New York State).
Because of persecution, early members of our church moved from New York to Ohio and then to Missouri and then back east a bit to Illinois. By 1842 the headquarters of the church was in Nauvoo, a city which Latter-day Saints had founded and which rivaled Chicago as the biggest city in Illinois. Joseph Smith and his new church, with its thousands of adherents, had attracted the attention of the press, and some of them wrote directly to him to learn more. That year, the editor of the first newspaper in Chicago, the Chicago Democrat, a man by the name of John Wentworth, wrote to Joseph to learn more about him and his church. Joseph’s reply to him, now commonly known as the Wentworth Letter, contained much of the history I just related. More commonly known are the letter’s last 13 paragraphs, which have since been canonized as our church’s Articles of Faith.
The paragraph just before what became the Articles of Faith is also somewhat well known, particularly by missionaries, who are often asked to memorize it before they depart on their missions. It reads:1
Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, Australia, the East Indies, and other places, the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.
What is remarkable about this letter is the vision that Joseph Smith and other early leaders and members of our church had of what this church would eventually become. Today it is perhaps easy to think of ourselves as an international church, with 16+ million members around the world. But in 1842 our church had only 23,564 members.2 Yet Joseph wrote that Latter-day Saint missionaries were traveling to far-flung nations, to peoples who spoke various languages and lived in cultures quite different from the American one that had first nurtured the restored church.
Because this church is for everyone everywhere, and the gospel it teaches is for everyone everywhere.
Because Jesus Christ is the Savior of everyone everywhere.
This was not meant to be just an American church.
Joseph then went on to list for Mr. Wentworth some of our basic beliefs as members of this church. The one he listed first: “We believe in God ….” It may seem kind of obvious that we believe in God; we are people of faith, after all, and members of a church. But Joseph still felt it necessary to explain that we believe that God is real and that he lives.
Joseph then wrote a title for God. There were so many titles he could have chosen. He could have called God “the Creator,” or “the Almighty,” or “the Judge of humanity,” among many others. But the one he chose? “The Eternal Father.”
To me, this emphasizes that our foremost belief as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that God exists and that he is our Father. In other words, we believe that we are all, without exception, children of God.
When you enter the doors of this building, you are coming here as children of God. Where you came from matters only in the sense that your individual experiences and perspectives, and the cultures and traditions you have brought with you, add to the richness of our community as a ward.
But ultimately, when we come together in this chapel, where we came from, what we look like, how well we speak English, whether we are in this country “legally”, our gender, our sexual orientation, our job, how much money we have — none of that matters. Jesus is the Savior of everyone everywhere, and this church is for everyone everywhere. You are a child of God and you are always welcome here.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
- Ensign, July 2002, accessed 11 August 2019 ↩
- Wikipedia, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints membership history”, accessed 11 August 2019 ↩