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Religion and the G-20: With faith, we can move mountains

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The Group of 20 economic summit will bring the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies together in Rome at the end of this month. Presidents, prime ministers, finance leaders and experts will gather to explore and address global issues facing the people of the world through the lens of economics. The outlook is cloudy, though, as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on public health and private business and as poverty rates continue to rise. Important conversations focused on the power of international commerce could impact the lives of many. 

How does this connect to the faith community? Recently in Bologna, Italy, the annual G-20 Interfaith Forum assembled a host of religious leaders, government officials and experts from nonprofit organizations. Attendees shared an array of viable, sustainable solutions for the world economy that include anchors in faith. A participant myself, I believe that the economics of religious liberty may provide powerful solutions to poverty-stricken countries, global tragedies and human suffering.

Those of us involved in the realms of all faiths believe that God sees people, especially those suffering from natural or human-caused disasters, not as liabilities to be managed but as assets to be developed, filled with infinite individual worth and divine potential. When leaders at every level of business, government and religion see this too, the focus shifts from managing programs to delivering outcomes.

Rather than banishing religious organizations from the public square or overlooking their potential influence, elected officials should create space for faith-based groups to thrive and contribute. Religious groups regularly fill the gaps between government and people, where many individuals fall through the cracks of social safety nets. 

When religion is given the freedom to flourish, believers everywhere perform simple, sometimes heroic acts of service. The answer to what ails economies and societies is not to be found in bigger government or bigger business but in “bigger” citizens and communities — especially communities in which all faiths can flourish and contribute.

Religion encourages human beings to reach out beyond themselves and serve, encourage, help and ennoble their fellow man. Governments can’t solve human ills; people solve human ills. One of the principal values of religion and religious beliefs is that both tend to result in more caring, more compassion and more desire to alleviate human suffering.

Faith organizations can inspire their people and offer these solutions only if their religious freedoms are protected. The ancient Jewish phrase “tikkun olam,” meaning to repair or to heal the world, is reflected in the efforts of so many faith traditions. Literacy courses, clean water wells, field hospitals following earthquakes, food during famines, rebuilt homes after natural disasters, assistance to refugees, addiction-recovery programs — the list is long, but so is the list the needs.

As people of faith go about doing good, as Jesus taught, we contribute to the growth and stability of diverse countries. A study in 2016 from the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation (RFBF) reported that “religion annually contributes nearly $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value to the U.S. economy.” That socioeconomic value, according to the RFBF’s founding president, Brian Grimm, “is equivalent to being the world’s 15th largest national economy. … It’s more than the annual revenues of the world’s top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google.” 

If that is the impact of faith in America, imagine what faith could do across the world.

That’s why protecting all faiths is critical.

Religious belief and practice are excellent predictors of service. Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Christian organizations carry out essential relief efforts and social services to millions of people. They do this for anyone.

In 2021 alone, religious groups and other nonprofit organizations partnered with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on projects in 160 countries. That includes significant contributions to COVAX, a global effort to provide vaccines worldwide. Latter-day Saints also committed to delivering more than 26 million meals to feed the hungry this year, and in 2020 carried out 294 projects for refugees in 50 countries, helping with shelter, health support and refugee resettlement. 

Pope Francis, in his message to the G-20 Interfaith Forum, said: “Truly, the time for alliances of some against others has passed. Now is the time for alliances in the search for shared solutions to the problems of all.”

I agree. When we stand shoulder to shoulder, we can do more, lift more and serve more.

G-20 political leaders looking to boost international economies and opportunities for all the people of the world should include religious leaders and organizations for solutions to eradicate poverty, nurture upward mobility, heal human suffering and foster more vibrant, inclusive communities and countries.

Faith in a better economic outlook for the world begins by acknowledging and embracing the economics of faith in the world.

Ronald A. Rasband is an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a member of its Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 2015. He previously was a member of the church’s Presidency of the Seventy, has served in numerous church roles in the United States and in Europe since the 1970s, and was president and chief operating officer of Huntsman Chemical Corp. from 1987 to 1996.

Tags G-20 Group of 20 Pope Francis The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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