Editor's note: Deseret News staff writer Tad Walch, together with Church News Editor Sarah Weaver and photojournalist Jeff Allred, is chronicling the South American ministry of President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the impact the church is having in various countries. He reports today from Uruguay.
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — President Russell M. Nelson condemned religious violence during a wide-ranging interview of the Latter-day Saint leader conducted here Friday by the biographer of Pope Francis.
"The Catholics and the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we need to work together to stem the tide of violence," President Nelson told Sergio Rubin, author of the international bestselling authorized biography, "Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio."
"The teachings of the Lord are clear," President Nelson said after Rubin asked him about extremists whose violence is motivated by religion. "There is to be no contention, no disputation."
He has repeated that phrase several times on this five-nation tour of South America, teaching the church's missionaries here that Jesus Christ's first sermon in the Americas included seven injunctions against contention and disputation.
"We should love one another," he told Rubin on Friday. "So violence has no place in society."
Rubin asked him how he managed to cope with reports of violence.
"That is incomprehensible," President Nelson said. "Hatred, violence, murder: All are against the teachings of the Lord." He also called mass shootings "a great offense to God."
He also said that Muslims unfairly suffer discrimination for the bad actions of radicalized Muslims.
"They are our brothers and sisters," President Nelson said, "and we don’t like adversarial proceedings between them or us."
Rubin, a high-profile Argentine journalist with dual Italian citizenship, spent 50 minutes asking President Nelson a broad array of questions ranging from immigration to the church's new temple in Rome and from abortion to the faith's growth in South America.
On immigration, President Nelson said, "We teach that we should build projects of cooperation instead of fences of opposition," adding, "I don't like fences."
The Catholic Church did not block the Latter-day Saints from building a temple in Rome, the heart of Catholicism.
"We appreciate the kindness of the pope, the Vatican," President Nelson said. "They have been most gracious and welcoming to us."
The temple will open in March, and Rubin called it an exercise in interfaith coexistence. As a Jesuit, his biographer said Pope Francis comes from a tradition of establishing bridges with other faiths and cultures and had a good relationship with other Christian religions and faiths in Argentina.
President Nelson agreed with Rubin's suggestion that the two faiths are working closer together than ever and invited Rubin to the temple open house in January or February.
Rubin asked whether the U.S. Supreme Court might reverse abortion laws, but President Nelson said it appears to be settled law.
"I don't see that as a very likely possibility," he said, "but nonetheless we teach our people to have respect for human life from conception to the grave. It's a sacred matter and people offend the Creator when they interfere with his plans, so we strongly support the sacredness of the body. Unfortunately, we're a minority, so... ."
Rubin referred to President Nelson multiple times as Dr. Russell or Dr. Nelson, and when he followed up with a second abortion question, the heart surgeon in President Nelson surfaced.
"We teach them each body is a temple of God," he said. "As a doctor, I know that little fetus has life. About two weeks after conception, a little heart starts to beat. For us, that's a very sacred thought."
President Nelson expressed optimism when the journalist said religion is under retreat in many nations.
"Generally speaking, the family is under attack and religion is under attack," President Nelson said, "but we are confident the family will prevail and religion will prevail."
Rubin asked him if he'd seen material wealth lead people to think they can do with out religion.
"I've seen that shift," President Nelson said. "Now the center of gravity has moved to the southern hemisphere. South America and Africa are strong in their faith."
He said the church is expanding in South America because people here feel a closeness to the people of the Book of Mormon, and that he undertook his five-nation trip on the continent to visit some of the church's members here. More than 120,000 South American Latter-day Saints have turned out to see him in person and via video feeds to meetinghouses.
"When I was born in 1924, there were zero members in South America," he said. Now there are 3 million-plus."
After the interview, Rubin said he enjoyed his interview with President Nelson.
"I think he's very warm, very nice," Rubin said. "He's a man of faith, he’s a man of the spiritual world, and this means that he conveys at a very special frequency — very human and way beyond the human way. It's always nice to talk to a person like that. Like every church, The Church of Jesus Christ has its peculiarities and differences but the truth is, at the core, all religions have the same teachings. Religions teach peace, brotherhood. It’s good that The Church of Jesus Christ wants to spread spirituality to the world. The church shows characteristics of solidarity."
Rubin said he would use portions of his interview with President Nelson in Clarín, the newspaper he works for in Buenos Aires. It's possible he discuss it on his radio, show, too.
He said a lack of media coverage and resulting ignorance leads Latter-day Saints to experience some prejudice as a minority in South America.
"(The church has) to work every day to be better known," Rubin said. "I had the privilege to speak face to face with the leader of the church, but not everybody has this opportunity. But by using the media and, if possible, personal contact with members of the church, knowledge will help reduce prejudice."