When New York State considered legalizing prostitution in 2019, Reverend Que English was already the head of an anti-human trafficking organization apparently named for the time being: Not On My Watch, Inc.
She was grateful that Not On My Watch didn’t have to be left alone. Alongside him were his influential colleagues from the New York Commission of Religious Leaders.
CORL released a joint statement and successfully opposed the proposal. Signatories to the statement included the Catholic Archbishop of New York, the pastor of a Christian mega-church in Brooklyn, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis and a new member – an Area Seventy from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. .
“We came together as one voice that could not be ignored by the government,” the Rev. English said Thursday night at BYU’s Hinckley Center during the final session of the annual Religious Freedom Review.
CORL is also having a positive impact on maternal mortality rates, prison reform, and food insecurity in and around New York City.
This interfaith collaboration is a model of how religion can make a positive difference, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said as he moderated a panel discussion of CORL members.
The chairman and vice chairman of the commission met Thursday with the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ. Presidents Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks, and Henry B. Eyring presented each with the First Presidency Medallion.
Elder Cook commended CORL for “the excellent religious leadership you are providing in New York. I believe that is a great example for many places in this country and others. You have our love and gratitude.
Thursday’s conference included a session on building interfaith alliances and networks to support religious freedom and engage with social causes such as hunger, homelessness and criminal justice.
“I liken it to us being trusted messengers in our city with the power to influence for good,” Reverend English said in an interview with the Deseret News. “It’s one thing to go there as one religion. It’s another thing to come in as an interreligious. When interfaith is represented and those who are already voices in their individual faith come together under one roof, change is inevitable or impact is inevitable.
CORL added a 2018 Latter-day Saint representative, David L. Buckner, Area Seventy. At his first meeting, he was impressed watching church leaders discuss New York’s biggest issues and counsel each other and city leaders.
“I remember Reverend Al Sharpton saying something like, ‘Brother Buckner, we may be in different ships, but we’re in the same storm,’ Elder Buckner said. “And that’s when I realized that this table was not just inclusive, but counseling together.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis and vice president of CORL, said religious leaders can help the government find solutions.
“CORL is a very important organization, a group of respected New York City religious leaders who sit with government officials and have a voice in politics,” he said. “We are independent. We don’t need the government to give us anything. We want to make sure that we can give the government the support it needs to deal with life’s challenges, whether it’s homelessness, crime—there are a whole host of issues; we are not without problems.
The CORL delegation said the addition of a Latter-day Saint leader has enhanced its ability to solve problems and make an impact.
For example, Reverend AR Bernard, president of CORL and pastor of the Christian Cultural Center Megachurch, said his church fed 25,000 people a year before the pandemic. With the help of Latter-day Saints, he now feeds 100,000 people a year.
“We have a kindred spirit for service and kingdom,” said Bishop Victor A. Brown, senior pastor of the United Christian Church of Mount Sinai and member of the College of Bishops of the World Council of Independent Christian Churches.
He said that after Elder Buckner showed an interest in food insecurity, Bishop Brown showed him his church pantry. Elder Buckner organized a donation of $32,000 to purchase a new commercial refrigerator, new shelves, and non-perishable items to store them.
“We are thrilled and I really see this as an ongoing partnership,” Bishop Brown said. “I’m just incredibly impressed with what I’ve seen so far in terms of mobilization efforts. It’s like they’ve covered all the bases. They thought of all the needs a person might have and said we would put something in place.
“They truly embodied the mission of Jesus Christ in terms of accessibility and availability for the little ones.”
Elder Buckner said CORL helps the church provide help where it is needed most.
“You are where the rubber touches the road,” he said. “You know the people. You know exactly what you need. We didn’t, but we could offer the food delivery partnership and offer labor.
Latter-day Saint missionaries help distribute food to 400 to 600 families each week on the Long Island campus of the Christian Cultural Center, said Annette Bernard, the center’s executive director of community affairs.
“They come in with such energy and focus and love,” she said. “They change the atmosphere.”
Bishop Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, said his organization and those they serve have benefited from the significant help of hundreds of Latter-day Saint missionaries.
He and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, vice president of CORL, said they were happy to have their charities included in the Latter-day Saint Light the World Giving Machines in New York City.
“People could buy a kids’ basketball for after-school sports or they could buy a grocery food parcel that could benefit a family for about a week. They could buy MetroCards so people can’t take the subway,” Bishop Sullivan said.
Elder Cook highlighted two of the benefits of religious freedom.
“The first is how religious responsibility benefits secular society,” he said, noting that faith inspires people to be morally upright and to obey laws. “The second is the multitude of good works that religion inspires believers to perform on behalf of others,” he added.
He and the other religious leaders said they do not compromise their theologies by working together.
“We may walk separate paths to our respective places of worship,” Rabbi Potasnik said, “but there comes that time when we all know we must walk the path of humanity together as one family.”
Rev. English said they were simply working together to meet human needs. She encourages those attending the conference to form interfaith groups to influence governments in their own communities.
“Wherever we find Jesus operating in the scriptures, where he was moved with compassion, he followed with action,” she said.
The annual summit has attracted religious leaders, lawyers and legal experts from across the country. The president and CEO of Christianity Today participated in a panel with a reporter from The Atlantic who is Jewish, a Muslim professor from Long Island University and the CEO of the Center for Public Justice.
The conference also included three tracks for specialized training or discussion:
- On one track, three sessions focused on what people can do in their own local communities. One was about building bridges with LGBTQ groups. Another concerned the creation of interfaith partnerships. The third concerned the formation of local coalitions for religious liberty.
- Another track focused on religion making a positive difference, with sessions on preventing genocide, welcoming the stranger and helping with criminal justice.
- A final track specifically for lawyers included three sessions on recent legislation and court cases across the country.