Rabbi David Saperstein tells BYU how to help fight climate change and poverty

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Even before Russia’s attack on Ukraine, I found it hard to be optimistic about the state of the world. I felt like no matter where I looked for updates — Twitter, my inbox, the Deseret homepage — I got bad news.

Rabbi David Saperstein, former U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, described the current situation well during a recent appearance at BYU.

Every generation believes it faces the greatest challenges the world has ever seen, he noted. For us, it’s actually true.

“The consequences of bad decisions (made today) are more dangerous and perilous than humanity has ever known,” he said of the 2022 edition. Amos A. Jordan Conferencewhich was hosted by The Wheatley Institution.

Although I was unable to speak to him during his visit to Utah, I am quite confident that Rabbi Saperstein did not say all of this in hopes of deepening my stress about the pandemic, the political conflict and a number of other issues.

Instead, I think he wanted to discuss the immensity of the world’s current problems to show that solving them will require more than small-scale solutions.

What the world really needs right now is a radical transformation, Rabbi Saperstein explained. And faith groups can play a key role in making it happen.

“Religious communities have urgent, profound and indispensable wisdom to offer,” he said.

Today, as in the past, faith groups are at the forefront of solving many global problems, including hunger, disease, lack of education and underemployment. By working together, religious organizations can multiply the impact they have on their own, said Rabbi Saperstein, director emeritus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“We are in an extraordinary time right now for multifaith relations. Never in the history of the world has there been this degree of interreligious dialogue…and cooperative efforts,” he said.

It’s important to keep positive developments like this in mind when you’re tempted to be pessimistic about what’s to come, Rabbi Saperstein noted. As daunting as today’s challenges are, the world has the tools to meet them. Believers are called to help restore hope, he said.

“We may well be the first generation capable of creating the society our ancestors commissioned us to build,” he said. Faith groups “must spread this message of hope with confidence.”

Fresh off the press

Term of the week: Religious pluralism

In addition to addressing today’s key challenges and how we can address them, Rabbi Saperstein spoke about the concept of religious pluralism, which he contrasted with religious tolerance.

As the name suggests, religious tolerance describes a situation in which different faith groups learn to tolerate each other. “There is a sense of reluctant silence,” Rabbi Saperstein said. Believers will not attack each other, but neither will they seek to become friends.

Religious tolerance is certainly preferable to interfaith violence, but that should not be society’s ultimate goal, he said. He encouraged faith groups to deepen their relationship with each other and instead move towards a situation of religious pluralism.

“When you bury differences, they come out in unhealthy ways,” Rabbi Saperstein said. “If we discuss different things” and understand why we each believe what we believe, then we can build deeper and healthier interfaith relationships, he added.

What I read…

Like many Americans, I have spent much of the past week following the news from Russia and Ukraine. Here are seven stories that have helped me understand the religious significance of the current conflict:


I recently returned to my old stomping ground in New Haven, Connecticut, to teach a course in religious journalism to students at Yale Divinity School. here is A record of the public event that was part of my visit; one of my old teachers interviewed me about what it’s like to cover religion and the Supreme Court.

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