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A Mormon apostle with a history as a cardiologist is prescribing a healthy dose of religious rights as a remedy to the spread of incivility, intolerance, xenophobia and other cultural ills.

"Religious beliefs, teachings and practices bring needed medicine to a society that would otherwise be aggressive and sick," Dale G. Renlund told an international forum on religious freedom last week in Costa Rica.

Renlund, a renowned doctor of cardiology who cared for heart transplant patients before his call to the LDS apostleship in 2015, said religion and religious liberties benefit not only individuals but also wider society by providing, among other standards, codes of moral conduct that help people shed selfishness and instead "act with selflessness."

Renlund, according to a news release from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, appeared at a symposium with his wife, Ruth Lybbert Renlund, who built a career as a civil litigation attorney.

"A truly civilized, well-functioning society depends on an accepted code of moral conduct that is based on a belief system that teaches that there is something greater than self," Ruth Renlund told the audience.

Together, the release stated, the Renlunds urged people to help build a better world by embracing tolerance, rejecting hate speech, standing up for everyone's religious rights, denouncing xenophobia and refusing to demonize "whole religions because of the actions of a few."

Dale Renlund told his listeners he has witnessed firsthand the "ugliness of prejudice and discrimination." He noted he was bullied as a teen in 1960s Europe because he was an American and a Mormon.

"Ridicule, harassment, bullying, exclusion and isolation, and hatred toward others [are] repugnant," he said, and "not pleasing to the God I love and worship."

Renlund touched on a similar theme in his General Conference address in April, when he stated that "bigotry manifests itself, in part, in unwillingness to grant equal freedom of expression."

"Everyone, including people of religion," he said then, "has the right to express his or her opinions in the public square. But no one has a license to be hateful toward others as those opinions are expressed."

Those words come in the wake of a string of rowdy town hall meetings in Utah and elsewhere, covering policy issues ranging from homelessness and where shelters should be built to partisan rancor about the pros and cons of the Trump administration.

For an example of how to enhance empathetic interactions with others, the LDS apostle pointed his audience in Costa Rica to the life of Jesus Christ.

"He did not disdainfully walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, flinching at the sight of those who did not follow his teachings. He did not dodge them in abject horror. No, he ate with them. He helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy."

At its best, under Renlund's formula, religion can do that for every soul and all of society.


Correction: June 13, 4:08 p.m. • An earlier version of this story misstated Dale Renlund's professional credential before he became an LDS apostle. He was a heart-transplant cardiologist.