Book of Mormon

Michael Wilcox:

When I was fourteen, I decided it was time I received my own testimony of the Book of Mormon. I began to read it, but as I read, I was filled with doubt about its truthfulness. I was frightened by my feelings, but I shared them with no one. One day after a particularly distressing day of reading, I decided to go into the willows by the river and pray until God gave me an answer. I begged God to take away the dark feelings and tell me if the Book of Mormon was true. “If you are really there and you love me, you will tell me,” I prayed. For hours I stayed in the willows. Night came on, and yet I continued to pray. This had worked for Enos, so I prayed and prayed. Finally, hungry and cold, I left the willows and went to bed. I heard no voice. I felt no lightening of my load. I received no witness, no calm burning in the heart. I had demanded an answer on my terms, according to my timeline, corresponding to my needs. I had jumped from the pinnacle.

…Eventually I received my answer, and in a way and time that were far more powerful than I could ever have expected. God did not let my foot dash against the stone. I did not remain in doubt and darkness regarding the Book of Mormon. When we need water from the rock, we may ask for it, but we must not require that water as a proof of God’s power or love, for then we are standing on the pinnacle responding to the tempter’s voice that we must jump or forever remain in doubt. Can we not believe, as did Jesus, without casting ourselves down?

Walter F. Gonzalez:

I started reading the Book of Mormon. I was only a few verses into the book, in 1 Nephi, when I felt something different. I began to debate between my feelings and my intellect. So I decided to ask God in prayer.

This was the first time in my life that I had prayed on my knees. The experience that followed became one of the most sacred of my life. A feeling of such overwhelming happiness filled me that I knew in my heart that the Book of Mormon was more than just a book. It was a book of divine origin. It had to be the word of God. I later came to understand that the feeling was the Spirit testifying of its truthfulness.

George W. Pace:

When I was 19, I was captivated with the desire to read the Book of Mormon and obtain a sure witness of its truthfulness. That summer I tucked a copy in my back pocket and, while waiting between irrigation changes and every other time I got a chance, I would read intently. My prayers changed in intensity, and I found myself pleading daily, sometimes within the day that I might receive a revealed testimony of that book.

After only a few weeks of intense reading I found myself in a whole new world. I started getting very excited about the things of the spirit; feelings started coming in my heart that caused me to feel there was a great reason for being—that there was a work to prepare to do.

I remember one particularly choice day when the quiet assurance of the truths I had been reading pulsated through my body. I was sitting on a small bridge that spanned an irrigation ditch, dangling my gum boots in the water to keep them cool. As I glanced upward I felt inwardly the spirit of the words I had been reading. The Spirit was witnessing to me that what the prophets had written—what I was reading—was true; I felt deeply that Nephi had really seen and conversed with the Lord, that he had tasted divine goodness and love and I knew that his life had changed under the Savior’s influence. The real joy, however, was to feel burning throughout my body the assurance that I too could know the Lord, that I too could understand the great gospel truths, that I could be spiritually strengthened by the Savior’s power as Nephi had been.

Aimee Wilson:

Near the end of the project, I read Moroni 10:3–5. I wanted to know the truth, and I had faith to receive it.

That night when all was quiet, I knelt to ask God to know if the Book of Mormon is true. As I prayed, I felt encircled by a peaceful warmth. I knew without a doubt that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. This book became as true and as real as the stars I see glistening in the sky. What a powerful testimony this experience became in my life!

The time arrived for the leaders and invited youth to meet together. We came fasting to help bring the Spirit into our meeting. When it was my turn, I rose to speak. My testimony of the Book of Mormon had not come in a sudden burst of light or some other dramatic display. It had arrived more simply. The same peace and warmth I had felt when I prayed about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon came over me again. I stood and bore testimony of the sacred pages I had read; I knew the Book of Mormon is true.

Elvin Jerome Laceda:

I pondered if my testimony of the Church and of Joseph Smith was strong enough to withstand the temptations and enticements of Satan. I realized that it wasn’t. My testimony was weak because I had depended only on the testimonies of Church leaders and members. I promised myself that starting that day, I would seek my own testimony.

I decided to read the Book of Mormon. In the introduction I read, “We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10:3–5.)” I knew I was personally being invited to read the Book of Mormon. As I continued reading, I felt the warmth of the Holy Ghost testifying of the book’s divinity and truthfulness.

Michael T. Ringwood:

Millions of people have put this promise (Moroni 10:3-5) to the test and have gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I am one of those millions. For some, their testimony may have come easily and quickly, but for most of us, it takes time and effort to gain the promised testimony.

For me, it really did require me to remember how merciful Heavenly Father has been to His children from the days of Adam to our time. It required me to read with believing eyes and a believing heart and then to pray with real intent. That means I had to let God know that I was willing to live in accordance with a witness if I received one. It required me to have the commitment to make changes in my life if the answer did come. I did ask of God, and I did receive that witness.

Paul C. Hardin:

At this point I had reached the original goal to read the Book of Mormon twice. I was surprised to realize that I was no longer interested in the steak dinner—this was becoming too important, too sacred, for such a reward. I was now convinced the Book of Mormon was good and correct, but was it true? To answer that question, I read it for a third time.

Before I read, I said a short prayer, asking, “Father, is what I’m about to read true? If so, please tell me through Thy Spirit.” Then, when I was finished reading for the day, I’d close the book and ask, “Father, is what I have just read true?” I read it through this way the third time, and not long after that, the Spirit bore witness of its truthfulness in an unmistakable manner. I had found out for myself that the promise found in Moroni 10:3–5 really works!

Umberto Gilardi:

So it was with some apprehension that I picked up the book and read several passages the elders had marked, including the promise in Moroni (see Moroni 10:3–5). To my astonishment, I read with perfect clarity and understanding. I read Moroni’s promise and then reread it. I decided I must “ask God” (Moroni 10:4).

I went upstairs and prayed. “God, if you tell me this book is true, then I’ll join this church and I’ll be the man you want me to be.” I didn’t see any lights, but something went through me. The Holy Ghost confirmed that the Book of Mormon was true and that I should join the Church. And then this clear thought entered my mind and heart: “I want you to have the priesthood.” I didn’t know what the priesthood was (other than that meeting I habitually skipped), but I was determined to find out and seek it.

I called the missionaries and told them I wanted to be baptized. They were understandably shocked. I told them of my experience and asked them about the priesthood. As I met with them over the next few weeks, my questions were answered and my testimony grew.

Koichi Aoyagi:

I knew I needed to change somehow. I realized that I did not have a strong testimony. I wasn’t sure if God lived, and I didn’t know if Jesus Christ was my Savior. For several days I grew anxious as I thought about the message in the letter. I didn’t know what to do. Then one morning I remembered something the missionaries had taught me. They had asked me to read Moroni 10:3–5, promising that I could know the truth for myself. I decided that I must pray. If I felt nothing, I could completely forget about the Church and the commandments, and I would never go again. However, if I did receive an answer, as Moroni promised, I would have to repent, embrace the gospel with all my heart, go back to church, and do all I could to follow the commandments.

As I knelt and prayed that morning, I pleaded with Heavenly Father to answer me. “If Thou live—if Thou are real,” I prayed, “please let me know.” I prayed to know if Jesus Christ was my Savior and if the Church was true. As I finished, I suddenly felt something. I was surrounded by a warm feeling, and my heart was filled with joy. I understood the truth: God does live, and Jesus is my Savior. The Lord’s Church was truly restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God.

Needless to say, I prayed for forgiveness that very day and resolved to follow the commandments. I returned to church and promised the Lord that I would do whatever it took to remain faithful.

Emerson José da Silva:

I was taught by great elders. When I heard the message of the Restoration, I had an even greater confirmation that I should be baptized. But I wanted to know for myself the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The elders marked Moroni 10:3–5 in my Book of Mormon and invited me to pray and ask God if it is true.

The next evening I remembered that I had not yet read the Book of Mormon. As I began to read, I felt a very strong spirit. I prayed, and before I was finished, I knew that the Book of Mormon is true. I am grateful to God for having answered my prayer.

José Evanildo Matias Fernandes:

Sometime later while in a pharmacy, I noticed an open book on a counter. As I began to read it, I learned about a man named Korihor who insisted on doubting the power of God and was eventually struck dumb. When I reflected on the words I read, I recognized them as being from God.

During this time I had been looking for divine direction. One day I knelt and fervently prayed asking God to show me the true path that would bring me to Him. A few days later our son became ill, so I returned to the pharmacy. When I was about to leave, three young Americans wearing name tags entered. I immediately felt a warmth in my breast, which prompted me to speak with them.

…When I heard about the Prophet Joseph Smith for the first time, I knew my prayer had been answered. Then the missionaries gave me a book. To my astonishment, it was a Book of Mormon—just like the one I had seen in the showcase. I again felt a sweet warmth and became so happy that I was barely able to speak.

The missionaries explained the origin of the book and then asked me to pray and ask God if it was true. I already had an absolute certainty of the divinity of the book, for the Lord had shown it to me—twice. Nevertheless, I examined it in great detail. Upon reading chapter 17 in 3 Nephi, I knew it contained a divine story because it contained the words of Jesus Christ.

The foundation of my testimony is in knowing that the Book of Mormon contains the word of God. It has changed me and continues to change me.

Faith Watson:

After the sweet, Spirit-filled baptism, Alice held a Book of Mormon as she bore testimony of its truthfulness and expressed gratitude for its teachings, especially its witness of the Savior. In her testimony, she told how the book had come to her. She had been working at a kiosk in a local shopping mall. One day a woman came by and gave the book to her boss. The boss was not interested and put it on a shelf.

A short time later, when the business was leaving the kiosk, the boss told Alice to throw the book away. But Alice was curious, briefly looked at the book, and asked if she could have it.

Alice took the Book of Mormon home, read it within a few weeks, and was convinced of its truth. But she didn’t know what to do. Some months later she found another job, where she worked with a Latter-day Saint. She asked him about the Book of Mormon and the Church, and he and his wife invited her to meet with the missionaries.

Then this sister said she would like to read the testimony written in the front of her Book of Mormon. The testimony was mine. I had placed it there before giving it to Alice’s boss at the kiosk.

The elders broke into delighted smiles. This was the sweetest surprise I had ever experienced in my life! After the baptismal service, my new sister in the gospel rushed to hug me.

Anonymous:

My year studying the Book of Mormon in seminary was my happiest year in high school.  At the end of the year, I had read the Book of Mormon, and I read Moroni 10:3-5 and prayed to know if it was true.  Nothing happened.  I didn’t feel anything in particular, but I decided I would be patient and God would speak to me in His own time and in His own way.

A couple of years later as I was approaching mission age, I spent time at a friend’s house and that afternoon I went from there to a youth activity.  He saw me holding my scriptures as I was getting ready to leave, and asked me about my scriptures.  I tried to give him a brief description of the Book of Mormon, and told him it was a record of ancient Israelites who left their land and came to the Americas.  As I was telling him these details, my body felt like it was on fire, and my friend felt the same.  I knew at that age what it was like to have intense emotional experiences, but I had never felt anything like that.  I made a commitment that afternoon to serve a mission.

George Reynolds

After a few minutes, the elders stood up to leave and asked, “Can we come back?” I was going to say no, but before I could, my roommates told them to stop in again when they were in the area. And they did.

During their next visit, something happened within me. I felt an urge to pray and to read from the Book of Mormon. That night I did read, and I got down on my knees to pray. I didn’t even know what I was praying for exactly, but I knew I had to call upon God and ask what I should do.

Although I heard no audible words, I was spoken to in a way that I understood perfectly and plainly. I knew there was indeed a God in the heavens and that He loved me and knew me. From then on, I started gaining a true testimony of the restored gospel and the Prophet Joseph Smith. All of my criticism toward God, and especially toward Mormons, withdrew as if a curtain had been opened in my mind. A sweet feeling of peace entered my soul. Alma’s words in the Book of Mormon about being born of God describe what I was feeling and thinking (see Mosiah 27:28–31).

Anonymous:

I’m a lifelong believer. I’ve always been active in church. Well into my adult life, I followed a prompting to understand my covenants better by studying the scriptures, specifically the Book of Mormon.

The results have completely changed my life. I see now that the Book of Mormon is exactly what it claims to be. In addition to providing a powerful witness of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon truly “show[s] unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” (Title Page)

Everyone can benefit from studying the scriptures with more regularity and more intent. I know those who seek knowledge through the Spirit will be taught from on high and will receive a witness of the reality of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice for the human family.

Jed A. Adams:

My birth certificate states that I was born January 2, 1932, in East Garland, Utah, to Floyd Ardell Adams and Zelda Barbara Atkinson Adams. It does not indicate that I was born in my parents’ two-room farmhouse, which did not have running water. A hand water pump was on the outside porch that Mother had to go to any time she needed water. However, we did have electricity. I was the second child and the first son. Later, five brothers were added to the family.

East Garland was not a town. It was an agricultural area, with the town of Garland on the west, the town of Tremonton on the south, the Bear River on the east, and Fielding, another agricultural area, on the north. The only non-farm building in East Garland was the church house. As was the case at that time, especially in rural Utah, all the people in East Garland were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dad and Mother had attended Bear River High School. Mother graduated valedictorian of her class. She was an avid reader all her life. Dad was only able to complete his sophomore year, as his father needed him to help on the farm. However, even though Dad’s formal education was short, I never met a man who had more wisdom.

While we lived in East Garland, Dad said we would go to church together as a family, and we did. There was no pressure. It was simply something we did on Sunday as long as any of us children were living at home. Sometimes we walked to church, since the church house was only half a mile away. In addition to teachings at church, Dad and Mother taught us concepts from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Mother also told us about our great great grandparents and great grandparents, who were among the first to join the Church in Europe. Some were disowned by their families, and others were mocked by friends who did not join the Church. Like others, they said goodbye to their homeland and came to a new country by ship and crossed the plains to Utah with other pioneers. Both of these were heart-breaking and fatiguing trips, but they were determined to come. They were from Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark, but mostly from England. Of this group of ancestors, I only met my Grandfather Delos Adams and Grandfather Joseph Atkinson. The others had passed on before I was born.

In 1936, Mother’s sister and her husband, who lived in California, purchased a bare seventy-five-acre farm in Yuba City, California. By “a bare farm,” I mean that there weren’t any crops growing on it. There was a house, a barn, and a deep well pump for irrigation. They wanted Dad to come and develop their farm. After much thought, Dad and Mother decided to move to Yuba City, which is about fifty miles north of Sacramento. We made this move in 1937, when I was five years old. Dad prepared the ground with his team of horses, and planted alfalfa, peaches, and almonds. The first crop of alfalfa came the second year we were there, and, at age seven, I became the designated alfalfa mowing and raking person with Dad’s team, as well as being an irrigator. Of course, Dad had to harness and unharness the team, since I could not reach the top of their backs. This continued after Dad bought his own farm.

As soon as we arrived in Yuba City, Dad and Mother located the Church. We continued attending church as a family. When I was eight years old, I was baptized in the font at the Gridley Stake chapel. I cannot say that I had a real testimony at that time. I had learned a lot about the gospel in church and from my parents. I was familiar with Joseph Smith’s quest to find the true Church; his visitation from God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ; the instructions he received at that time; his organizing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and his translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates given to him by the angel Moroni.

A person might conclude that anyone who had three generations of grandparents plus parents with strong personal testimonies of the gospel would automatically inherit a strong testimony. But it doesn’t work that way. A testimony is personal, and one must discover for himself or herself the truthfulness of these things. During my later teenage years, I began to see more clearly the disparity between my parents’ testimony and what I was thinking. I could not say in all honesty, “I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth.” I thought it was the true church. This may be a necessary beginning condition, but it is not a sufficient condition for a real testimony. Like many others, I concluded that the Book of Mormon was the starting point because of a promise that it contains in chapter ten, verse four, of Moroni, which states:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Like many others who wanted verification from Heavenly Father, I began to put this to the test. I studied the Book of Mormon, fasted, and knelt down and prayed many times with a sincere heart to know if it was true. I also prayed to know if Joseph Smith truly saw God, the Father, and Jesus Christ. I also prayed to know if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the true church on the earth. These efforts continued after I began attending the University of California at Berkeley. In due time, Heavenly Father did answer my prayers by the gift of the Holy Ghost. Since that time, I have had other personal experiences that could easily be called miracles. These will not be discussed, as they are most sacred to me. I have also witnessed positive changes in the lives of others who have sincerely put this to the test. These experiences have further strengthened my testimony about the truthfulness of the Church.

For many years it has been my testimony that I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s true church on the earth. I know that Joseph Smith did see God, the Father, and Jesus Christ, and conversed with them. I know Joseph Smith was chosen by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to be the prophet to restore His Church to the earth with the same organization and doctrine as the church Christ established when He was on the earth. I know the prophet Joseph Smith was given the holy priesthood as part of this restoration, and it continues in the Church today. I know the prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from the golden plates by the gift and power of God, and that it is a second witness of Heavenly Father’s plan for us to return to Him, and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

This same process is available to anyone who sincerely desires to know the truthfulness of these things. I encourage you to put it to the test.

Jonathan Adjimani

I grew up in a Presbyterian home, and attended a Methodist primary school and a Catholic high school. I was a church-going Christian but did not understand most of the principles of the gospel. My understanding of things about God and His son was shallow. It was basically that of a hell prepared for the sinners and a heaven for the righteous and that Jesus Christ came to die for my sins so I could be saved and that I should strive to live righteously. This was what I understood of the Gospel up to the end of my undergraduate education. Though this provided a fairly good living guide, I felt I was still lacking a good understanding of certain Christian doctrines. The only scripture of my own I remember having was a pocket-size New Testament. I relied mostly on what was preached on Sundays from the pulpit for understanding.

After my undergraduate education in biochemistry at the University of Science and Technology (now Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), in August 1979, I had a unique opportunity to undergo practical training with Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis) and Hoffmann-La Roche, pharmaceutical companies in Basel, Switzerland. It was during my sojourn in Basel, on my second practical training with Hoffmann-La Roche in July 1980, that I met two well-dressed young men on the Rhine Bridge while walking home from work. They introduced themselves as Elder Edgar Snow and Elder Edward John Warner, and said they were missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They asked whether I had heard about the church or the Mormons. I told them no. They wanted to know if I was interested in knowing about the Church. I thought to myself, how could I refuse a conversation with two pleasant, good-looking, English-speaking young men in a German-speaking part of Switzerland. They took my address and booked an appointment to meet with me in my hostel during the week. So they came at the appointed time and brought the Book of Mormon and taught me about Joseph Smith and his quest to know the truth and his reading of James 1: 5, which led him to pray to God for knowledge of which was His true church. They told me about the visitation by the Father and His Son Jesus Christ to the young Joseph Smith as he prayed to know the truth. I took interest in the story especially because it was the first time I had heard it and it was a great surprise to me that God the Father and His Son should speak to man directly. They gave me the Book of Mormon and told me it was another testament of Jesus Christ and challenged me to read and pray about it. It was quite a challenge, since reading was not a favorite pastime. But since I was out of school and had not much learning to do at the time, I took up the challenge and started reading. I don’t know whether they sensed my lack of enthusiasm to read, as they had selected portions of the book that I could read if I did not feel like reading the whole book to start with.

Over a period of two weeks I read more than I had been assigned and prayed to know if the book was of God. I felt good about what I had read and about the simplicity of the teachings of the book. Its message about repentance really came to me strongly. A thought came to me that made it feel like the Lord had opened up the opportunity for me to go to Switzerland so I could be taught the truth about His gospel. After investigating the church for about a month I was baptized on 22 August of 1980 in Basel.

In September of that year, I left Switzerland for Ghana. To my surprise I did not hear much about the Church in Ghana but continued to study the Book of Mormon. My testimony about my newfound faith continued to grow. I left Ghana for Canada to pursue a master’s degree in biochemistry. To my surprise, the church in St. Catharines, Ontario, was right across the street from where I found my student accommodation. By this act I knew the Lord was preparing me to learn more about the Church. It was in Canada that my testimony grew the most. My wife joined me in Canada and was baptized during our stay in Canada. After completing my Master’s program, I got admission to do my PhD studies in biochemistry at Utah State University, Logan, USA. I was now in the home of the Mormons. Logan had some of the nicest people I had ever met on this planet. Even though there were not more than a hundred black Africans in the city, both member and non-member Africans felt very much at home among the Mormons of Logan. It is the city we have enjoyed the most in all our travelling experience. To this day we still maintain our contacts with the good people of Logan. We were sealed in the Logan Temple in 1985.

I have enjoyed my almost thirty years of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have never regretted a second of it. I have served in various callings in the Church, including as a bishop. My life has been influenced both temporally and spiritually for good by the teachings of the Church. I bless the day I met the missionaries. I have no doubt that the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church is the fullness of the Gospel. I cannot say I am perfect, but I know the Church has taught me the correct principles I need to govern my life, and it is for me to be true and faithful to the laws and ordinances that I have been taught. I have read the Book of Mormon several times and know it is truly another testament of the Savior, and a holy scripture like the Bible. I pray that the message of these two volumes of scripture, will reach all nations, peoples, kindreds, and tongues. I have no doubt that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prophet called to restore the fullness of the Gospel in these latter days. I know that Jesus Christ atoned for my sins so I can be reconciled with Him and the Father through repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. I thank God for the gift of the Holy Ghost, which has borne testimony of this truth to me. That I might live worthy of these blessings and endure to the end is my sincere prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Douglas D. Alder

My early memories are of a home where answers were clear-cut. My dad was an adamant critic of FDR and he saw most other things just as firmly. Nonetheless, he seemed to have no reservation about my attending the University of Utah. In fact, there was no question about it.

Perhaps one reason was Henry Eyring. When I was a deacon, the famous scientist spoke in our stake conference as a member of the Deseret Sunday School Union Board. Dad and I sat together, listening. Brother Eyring said that we believed in truth—and truth was to be found widely. “If you want to be an anthropologist, become the best you can be. If you want to be an astronomer, do not hesitate to pursue the subject to the limit. But do not set the gospel aside in your pursuit of truth. Live it every day and attend church regularly and pray daily as you pursue truth in the gospel and in secular settings.” I was excited to my limit. That was what I wanted to do.

Another influence was J. Hazel Whitcomb. She was my high school history teacher. She had us read competing textbooks, and we discovered that they didn’t always agree. We also prepared research papers where we had to propose ideas, not just recite others’ findings. Then there was Valois Zarr’s debate class, where we learned to argue both sides of a question and took the state championship while doing it.

So I registered for summer quarter at the University of Utah right after graduation from high school. My four professors that quarter were Drs. G. Homer Durham, Sterling McMurrin, Emil Lucki, and Lowell Bennion. In my ten years of higher education following that first quarter, I never had a greater cast, despite being at a university in another state and one in Europe.

Toward the end of that summer quarter in G. Homer Durham’s class on American Political Government, we reached the topic of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Professor Durham built a case both for and against the New Deal. I listened patiently, taking detailed notes and expecting a conclusion where we would settle on Dad’s side. That never happened. He left that to us. I was stunned. He had become an icon for me during that quarter but he was not to be an icon like my father. I couldn’t imagine that he might choose either side. For me there was only one side where truth resided.

That was the beginning of a whole new life—one that would lead away from dogma and toward suspended judgment.

The experience with Sterling McMurrin was more predictable but equally unsettling. His course was the “Philosophy of Religion.” I took it because I was brash. I felt I could safely encounter the most distinguished secular Mormon without being unsettled in my faith. And I wasn’t unsettled. McMurrin didn’t intend to unsettle me. What happened was that I became sympathetic to his views without abandoning mine—more suspended judgment.

Then there was Emil Lucki. He was a Jesuit-trained medievalist and a practicing Catholic. Catholicism was a long way from where I wanted to be but Lucki embodied top level scholarship, not a crusader but insightful. I came to revere him and he took an interest in me.

Finally, there was Lowell Bennion. He was the Director of the LDS Institute of Religion at the “U.” Ironically, he and Sterling McMurrin were close friends despite their conflicting views. In all the many hours I spent in his classes over six years, I do not recall him advocating the things I expected of him. He was known as a Mormon who was critical of the church policy of withholding the priesthood from Blacks. But he never said a word about it in or outside class. No dogma, no crusade. Instead he involved us in service projects for widows and immigrants and those who were ill and, yes, some of them were black. In religion classes he had us consider Jesus. What would Jesus have us do?

As a graduate student I took a seminar from him called, “Your Religious Question.” He had us prepare a question on paper with many dimensions of its implications. He went over it with us individually. Then he sat in the back of the room as we conducted the seminar after giving our colleagues our paper. I chose to discuss “The conflict between the sacred and the secular.” When I wrote that question, I thought it was original. Yet Dr. Bennion reminded me that it was the center of intellectual life in the Middle Ages.

I adopted Lowell Bennion as my mentor. That he did graduate work in Germany impressed me and I chose to do the same.

When Elaine and I became engaged to be married, my father had just died and was not available to give us a marriage interview. I asked Dr. Bennion to counsel with us. We went, anticipating some advice about sexual relations. Instead he talked about careers. He said, “Doug, you will soon be looking for an academic teaching position. Don’t take a job at Dixie College, for example, with the intent of moving on to Cedar City and then to Utah State. Instead, look seriously at that first place. Do you have what they need? Could you be fulfilled by staying there for decades?” I realized he was lifting my view from “get-aheadism” to service. Ethical professional-ism was the right goal. At that interview I asked Dr. Bennion to be a witness at our marriage, in place of my father. He kindly obliged. Imagine how many students he had and how many of them asked him for such favors.

More changes came as I moved out of state to doctoral graduate training. One of my professors was a committed socialist. He was the top scholar dealing with socialism in Belgium. That was not where I felt comfortable, but he took an interest in me. He helped me learn to write and invited Elaine and me to their home for a European dinner. We were required to do a significant research paper for his class.

Because of his specialty, I chose to write about socialism, not in Belgium but in Austria, because I knew a lot about that country where I had served an LDS mission. I knew he could open some doors for me and he did. I knew he would be a great guide. It ended up that my paper led to a dissertation on that topic. He sent me to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and to the University of California at Berkeley to meet colleagues of his and they led me to excellent sources. That research had me examining the clash between Socialists and Catholics in the 1920s in my beloved Austria. Again I was examining doctrines well beyond my comfort zone. With his and my German History professor’s help I was able to win a Fulbright Fellowship to go to the University of Vienna and do my dissertation research on the site where it happened.

There were other professors at the University of Oregon who influenced me. In a European History seminar one day, Dr. Pierson looked at me and questioned me: “Douglas, do you think you could ever be a Socialist?” It took me five seconds to respond, “No, that’s not me.” Nonetheless, that did not mean that I could not be objective about understanding socialism. Another professor, Quirinas Breen, was a Calvinist. In his year-long Medieval History class there were four Mormons, four Lutherans, three Catholics and four United Brethren and about fifteen of no religious commitment. That year for us was a spiritual feast as well as a rigorous experience writing three research papers.

In the first quarter I chose to write on the Cathedral school at Chartres. I discovered that the best book on the subject was in French. I told him about it and he said that I should learn French well enough to read the book and he would give me an incomplete until I did. That was my motivation to pass the French test.

Once I won that Fulbright Fellowship, Elaine and I and our three year-old son, Scott, moved to Vienna and lived most frugally. I was a committed Latter-day Saint, attending and serving in the church there, and at the same time delving into the historical documents about the Socialist and Catholic political parties right after World War I. I knew that my biases had me feel critical about both views so I labored to be objective. I came to be respectful of Otto Bauer, the brilliant head of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, as a well as being objective about his opponent, Ignaz Seipel, a masterful Catholic priest and head of the Catholic party. I worked every day at being objective as I read the documents in the archives and even interviewed colleagues of these two learned but dogmatic opponents.

I shall never forget the experience I had defending that dissertation before my doctoral committee at the University of Oregon. As I entered the room they were laughing. I was taken aback. Upon my inquiry about their reaction, they said they were laughing at my bias. I stopped them short and explained that, yes, I was not a committed Socialist nor a devoted Catholic. I had worked hard to be objective. Their reply was: “Oh no. You achieved that well, but you were so pained to see the Nazis destroy both parties and end democracy in Austria in the early 1930s.” I was shocked, realizing that my objectivity did not include being neutral about the Nazis. Try as I might I could not find virtue in Adolf Hitler and his destruction of democracy. I felt fine about that limit to objectivity—and so did the committee.

When I began teaching European History at Utah State University and publishing my research, I was finally in the setting for which I had so long prepared. It was the fulfillment of nearly two decades of desire to become a scholar/teacher. Now, however, I was no longer a student, but there were students looking at me as I had looked at G. Homer Durham. That transition was humbling. Almost unknowingly, I took his stance—arguing objectively on both sides. One example was most memorable. I taught a seminar in the Honors Program about Utopias. I had each student choose a utopian society and do a research paper and present copies to the other students to read and then we would discuss it. We considered the Shakers, the Oneida Community, the Hutterites, Sir Thomas More, Plato, Fourier, St. Simon, Robert Owen, Cabet, and others. Many utopian experiments were quite socialistic. I worried that people in the community might become alarmed, but they didn’t. Hopefully both the students and the community respected the possibility of objectivity.

During my first year as a faculty member at USU, I came to know Leonard Arrington. He reawakened my interest in Mormon history. My master’s thesis dealt with the immigration of German-speaking Latter-day Saints to Utah from 1850 to 1950. It took me to the LDS Church Archives where the documents were available.

Prior to that I had a good dose of Utah history as an employee at the University of Utah Library. I shelved books in the Utah Room where Dr. John A. Widtsoe’s personal library was housed. It had a few thousand books, many of which were of an anti-Mormon viewpoint. I became aware that Mormon history was steeped in controversy. While there I also read some recent books of a more balanced view, such as Juanita Brooks’ Mountain Meadows Massacre.

At Utah State, Professor Arrington and Professor S. George Ellsworth helped me realize that something was changing in Mormon history. Leonard’s book, Great Basin Kingdom, was published by Harvard University Press and Juanita Brooks’ famous book came out through Stanford University Press. I knew enough about university presses to understand that they would not publish “defenders of the faith” kinds of writing nor would they accept diatribe attacks such as I found in Dr. Widtsoe’s collection of nineteenth century books. The presses were secular. They wanted history that was objective, based on factual documents, not dogma. For many decades Mormon history writing had been mainly partisan.

Stimulated by Juanita Brooks and promoted by Leonard Arrington, a new approach emerged. It came to be called “New Mormon History.” It aimed at being genuinely objective and acceptable as such to the scholarly community. Though it had some critics, it has proven to be successful and prolific. This development fit right into my evolution, beginning with G. Homer Durham. I have associated closely with the scores of scholars who write this kind of Mormon history, even serving one year as President of the Mormon History Association.

At the end of my first academic teaching year I was completely surprised to be called to serve as Bishop of the USU 2nd Ward (single students). I was thirty-two years old, barely a decade older than the ward members. Elaine held the hand of our five-year-old son, Scott, at the meetings in the LDS Institute of Religion on Sundays. A year later she brought our baby daughter, Elise, with her. I mention this bishopric experience because it was a spiritual high, spending about thirty hours a week counseling students who came to their bishop for guidance. They pulled me into a much greater understanding of the Gospel.

This bishopric was the fulfillment of my years as a youth and high school student. I had marvelous friends through those formative years. They made righteous decisions and kept me on that path. I had powerful seminary teachers and that same level of spiritual virtue carried on to college. When the Korean War came along the Church found it necessary to stop calling full-time missionaries. That was a shock to me because I assumed that I would soon be called.

Our cohort of friends had to figure out what we would do instead of being called on full-time missions. Some volunteered for the military service rather than be drafted. A few of my friends and I decided to go to the temple as though we were going on missions. For me that was a highlight I still revere.

Then a savvy stake president called many of us on a stake mission. I had a great companion, John Harmer, and we took it seriously. Two years later we did in fact get to go on full-time missions. I am still closely connected to the Saints in Austria where I served.

Amazingly, one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I had was serving on active duty in the U. S. Army following the mission. There I saw the dramatic contrast in the lives of those who lived virtuously and those who did not.

That topic of virtue is one of deep meaning to me, having experienced that virtue in high school and college, in the mission field and in the army. I encountered it among my students at USU and especially in the two singles wards where I served as bishop. My marriage to Elaine Reiser is my greatest treasure of virtue. Living in preparation for that marriage and in loyalty to it is sacred. This is where my faith has multiplied—in experiencing the beauty and power of gospel living in the lives hundreds of people I know well. Every day as a professor and bishop and temple sealer, I feel the spiritual radiance of those who live their sacred covenants.

This has little to do with scholarship or objectivity but I know personally that one who works in secular ways can be spiritually attuned also. It goes back to what Henry Eyring said sixty-five years ago. We believe in truth and must pursue it wherever it can be found. But we do not set the Gospel aside during that pursuit. We live by faith and commitment. We dedicate ourselves to the Lord. We experience tensions but we pray. We set virtue as a vibrant standard and keep ourselves open to the Lord’s spirit.

I remember a moment in my early teen years. I read that Hugh B. Brown wanted a witness that the Gospel is true. He prayed and received an answer. As a thirteen-year-old I also wanted such an affirmation. I wanted to be like my Dad—absolutely firm, no doubting. I prayed and did not receive such an epiphany.

I am so blessed.

Instead it has been my path to live by faith. I have been privileged to be able to venture into secular searching but also to experience the Gospel spiritually all the way because of obedience, teachers, friends, callings, and especially my great companion and family. Suspended judgment and spiritual commitment have worked for me. Thanks, Dr. Eyring.

Oh that cunning plan of the evil one!
Oh the vainness, and the frailties,
and the foolishness of men!
When they are learned they think they are wise,
and they hearken not unto the counsel of God,
for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves,
Wherefore their wisdom is foolishness.
And it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

But to be learned is good if they hearken
Unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 9:28-29)

Thomas G. Alexander

One hopes that Eric Johnson does not misinform his students the way he misinformed Salt Lake Tribune readers in his August 28 guest column, “Battling myths about Mormonism, creating new ones.”

An analogy equating the difference between Mormons and other Christians with the difference between Buddhists and Hindus would be laughable if he were not serious. An educated person should represent the views of opponents as they would represent themselves. Johnson fails miserably.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not consider themselves Christians just because they try to be moral. As he observes, many who are not Christians are moral. Rather, Mormons are Christians because they believe in and try to practice New Testament Christianity.

The LDS Church’s prophet, Joseph Smith, restored New Testament Christianity and some aspects of Old Testament practice. As Christians, every believing Mormon subscribes to Paul’s testimony: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Mormons and other Christians believe that Christ is the literal Son of God, that he was crucified for our sins, that he arose from the dead and that through His grace all humans will be resurrected.

Since they are New Testament Christians rather than traditional Christians, Mormons do not believe in un-biblical doctrines like Trinitarianism. Would Johnson exclude from the body of Christians those believers who lived before 325 C.E. even though Trinitarianism does not appear in the New Testament?

What he says about post-mortal polygamy is essentially correct. That is, however, irrelevant to charges of the continued practice of polygamy today. The belief that Mormons continue to practice polygamy is pervasive. It is not just “some” who believe this. In part, the erroneous belief has persisted because some folks simply have not taken the time to study the matter. They are the “ignorant” whom Johnson mentions. I have run into quite a number of them.

More seriously, however, the persistence of this belief has resulted from media sloppiness, sensationalism, or dramatization. Because the media often use the general term “Mormonism” for groups that continue to practice polygamy, otherwise well-informed people frequently associate the practice with the LDS Church. Moreover, I would expect that because of LDS President Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto of 1890, President Joseph F. Smith’s Second Manifesto in 1904, and persistent teaching, Mormons would remain monogamists even if the courts overruled current law.

Unfortunately, Johnson is right in his belief that most Mormons are conservatives. He assumes, however, that a Mormon president would follow the dictates of the prophet. I ran into the same brand of bigotry in 1960. I was living in California at the time, and one of my friends said that he would never vote for John F. Kennedy because Kennedy was a Catholic. He believed Kennedy would take orders from the pope.

If nothing else, the recent public dispute over immigration should lay that argument to rest. Many right-wing Mormons have openly disputed the church’s views on the question, in part by asserting that the church leaders simply did not mean what they said. In addition, in numerous other cases of historical note, church members have ignored or opposed public policy supported by the church leadership.

Now, I understand that I may have misinterpreted some of the things Johnson has written. If so, I apologize. On the other hand, he should seek in the future to represent the views of those he opposes as they would represent them.

James B. Allen

Four important things have been at the center of my adult life: my family, my church, the study of history, and, after I began my teaching career, the well-being (both academic and spiritual) of my students. I hope I have balanced my activities well enough to have made a positive and befitting contribution to each.

As a historian and a teacher, academics have been a major element of my career. I love the intellectual stimulation and challenges of the world of academia, though in many ways that world is quite different from the world of religion and spirituality. In academia one is taught (and teaches others) to study various points of view, question assumptions, challenge old ideas, and always look for new insights into whatever one is studying. However, this kind of activity can challenge one’s religious belief, and makes some people wonder (often with good reason) about the faith of academics. That is why I begin my contribution to the “Mormon Scholars Testify” website by stating as clearly as I can my own unequivocal testimony that this Church to which I have devoted my life is, indeed, the true Church of Jesus Christ, that Joseph Smith and his successors were and are true prophets of God, that the Book of Mormon is exactly what it claims to be and, most importantly, that Jesus is truly the Christ, the Son of God, my Savior, and the Redeemer of the World.

That said, the challenge of writing this essay caused me to consider again, as I have many times before, why I have such a testimony—what people, influences, or experiences have helped me maintain that faith in the face of all the questions that are inevitably raised as someone like me gets deeply involved in the study of Church history and, therefore, in the personal lives of those who walk across the pages of that history? Frankly, I am grateful for the opportunity to think through that question again.

Maybe I had some great Sunday School teachers when I was young, but either because of them or because of someone else I grew up imbued with the belief that my church is led by inspired prophets of God who, at the same time, are men, and therefore are not perfect. It was somehow drilled into my psyche that God works through men (and women) despite their weaknesses, and that we will be disappointed if we expect perfection. Our prophets and other church leaders have been, and are, great people, chosen in part for their faith, integrity, goodness, and openness to the prompting of the Spirit. They are recipients of divine revelation and purveyors of God’s will. The fact that they are not infallible, and, at times, have been known to make mistakes, should not diminish our reverence for them as prophets or our commitment to the truths they teach. That was the attitude I grew up with, and even though that testimony has been challenged from time to time I am grateful that somehow I maintained the ability not to “jump ship” whenever a new challenge appeared. The simple things of the gospel were so clear and satisfying, the Spirit continued to bear witness so abundantly, and the work of the Church seemed so important that it was not hard to cling to the fundamentals while holding the difficult and often unanswerable questions in abeyance as I considered the alternatives.

I mention all this because of one of the complaints from critics of the Church that bothers me most. They cannot accept Joseph Smith as a prophet, they say, because they have found some weakness in his character or some mistake in something he said or did. Or, they refuse to take the Church seriously because they have been disappointed in the actions of some other leader or some ordinary members. I suppose I was fortunate, for as a result of the way I grew up it was not difficult for me, after I began to study Church history more intensely, to look beyond their human nature and accept Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and later Church leaders as prophets of God. Even though I found what I, at least, thought were a few human weaknesses, and found in some of the things they said some speculative ideas that were not necessarily Church doctrine, my reverence for them as Church leaders did not diminish. They were still remarkable, inspired men, the fundamentals they taught were still divinely given, Joseph Smith’s First Vision was still an absolute reality, the Book of Mormon was what it claimed to be, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was still the only church with divine authority to administer the saving ordinances of the gospel of Christ and, as emphasized above, Jesus Christ (of whom the Book of Mormon and all the modern prophets testify) was the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, and my personal Savior. Throughout my life these things have remained fundamental to me. I can honestly say, as Leonard Arrington so often did when he was Church Historian, that none of the historical documents I ever had access to gave me reason to doubt the authenticity of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, his other recorded visions and revelations, the Book of Mormon, or the divine mission of the Church itself.

This does not mean that my faith was never challenged, or that I never had questions—sometimes serious questions. Some had to do with science and religion or with various academic issues. They included such things as the age of the earth, evolution and the creation of man, the implications of higher criticism for the scriptures, how literally we should take some of the biblical stories that seem impossible (such as the sun standing still in Joshua 10:12-13), the Book of Mormon passages that seem near-exact parallels with biblical verses, and other matters often pointed out by critics. Of course I found both academic and religious, or spiritual, “answers” to all these concerns. They were often well documented and persuasively argued, no matter which side they took on the issue. I soon realized, however, that neither academia nor religion had all the answers and that, in fact, it is not necessary to have all the answers to all the questions in order to have faith in the integrity of the prophets and the fundamentals of the gospel. Perhaps this over-simplifies, but it was that attitude that helped me “roll with the punches” whenever I needed to.

And it was that attitude that I spent much of my time at BYU trying to help students understand. It was surprising to me how often students came with just those kinds of questions: “Why do I see Church leaders disagreeing with each other—I thought they were supposed to be unified?” “Why, in the Journal of Discourses, do I find (such and such) being taught, when it is not the doctrine of the Church?” “How do I reconcile what I am being taught in my biology classes with what I hear in Sunday School and some of my religion classes?” “How do I deal with higher criticism, which I am learning about in some of my classes, when I am reading the scriptures?” “What about (this–or-that embarrassing event in Church history) that I have never heard about? Why was I not told about it in my Sunday School or seminary classes?” Questions such as these went on, as students frequently came to my office asking them. Interestingly enough, my children sometimes had the same kinds of questions. I hope I helped them, at least in part, by trying to share the attitude I grew up with and which my own LDS institute of religion teachers enhanced while I was in college. It was, in summary: “Hold fast to the simple truths that are consistently taught in the Church and that the Spirit bears witness are true. Feel free to ask questions. In fact, be excited about the fact that an important part of the learning process is asking questions, but don’t let it bother you if you cannot find all the answers immediately—or ever, for that matter. As you study hard and gain in secular knowledge, don’t leave behind the continuing quest for spiritual knowledge and understanding. Conversely, even though it is important that you study the scriptures and other Church literature regularly, don’t pass up your great opportunities to also learn about the things of the world. The Lord once instructed Joseph Smith ‘to obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion’ (D&C 93:53), and such advice applies equally to all of us. But above all, don’t be caught in the trap described by Nephi: ‘O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. . . . But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God’ (2 Nephi 9:28-29). If you can retain your humility, not becoming someone who is just ‘wise in his own conceit’ (Proverbs 26:12), you can have the best of both worlds!”

However, my faith certainly does not rely solely on that kind of reasoning. More important, for me, has been my personal experience, which I also tried to share with my children and my students. I have never had a vision or seen a heavenly being, though on some special and private occasions I have felt, strongly and undeniably, the powerful influence of the Spirit—sometimes in helping me make decisions and other times simply giving me reassurances when I needed them. I have also witnessed a few miraculous occurrences, and have been told of others by people whose integrity I trust without question.

Beyond these things, however, the people of the Church inspire me. As I study and reflect on Church history, I am constantly inspired not just by the leaders but by the tens of thousands of ordinary Latter-day Saints (including some of my own ancestors) whose unshakeable testimonies of the truth of this work led them to sacrifice so much and endure such agonizing hardship and suffering for the sake of what they believed. Equally important, I am constantly uplifted by the sweet spirit reflected (and which I can feel) in the lives of the many contemporary Latter-day Saints who devote so much of their time to the service of others. These include not just the tireless ward and stake leaders, who so willingly put untold hours into their important callings, but also the many “ordinary” Saints who have learned so well King Benjamin’s teaching “that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). In addition, since January 2004 my wife and I have been privileged to work as officiators in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. I cannot overemphasize the powerful spirit I feel as I associate with the hundreds of people who come to the temple during our shift each Friday night, hear of some of their remarkable experiences, literally feel their testimonies and love of the Savior, and sense their commitment to everything the temple stands for. All this and more only serves to strengthen my own testimony and commitment. It is nothing that can be “proven” in an “objective” or academic way, but it is all part of the testimony of the Spirit that I, for one, cannot deny.

Finally, my faith is only enhanced as I read the Book of Mormon. Yes, I have considered all the problems—all the questions and difficulties raised by those who would deny its authenticity. I have even written responses to some of their charges. But at least three things make it undeniably true to me. One is the remarkable complexity of the book. Flash-backs, stories-within-stories, important threads that run throughout the book, persistent references to earlier ideas and events, and other complexities: all these are handled so smoothly and consistently that it seems impossible to me that the relatively uneducated Joseph Smith could have made it all up and dictated it all so readily, and without hesitation, in just over two months time. Secondly, as I read the book I find so many passages that contain such powerful messages and inspiring ideas that I can’t believe that they were created by a meagerly educated and fraudulent mind. And lastly, the overriding message of the Book of Mormon concerning Jesus Christ and his divinity is awe-inspiring to me. It not only enhances my understanding and appreciation of Christ himself but also bears added witness to me that the Book of Mormon itself is true.

As I said at the outset, four important things have been at the center of my adult life: my family, my church, the study of history, and a concern for the well-being (both academic and spiritual) of my students. I hope the attitudes expressed here have “rubbed off” onto my family, my students, and any others with whom I have discussed these things over the years. I also hope that this essay, along with all the others in “Mormon Scholars Testify,” will help with whatever questions readers may have about what Mormon scholars really think.

Walter L. Ames

My testimony is who I am. I am the accumulation of what my parents and their parents passed down to me, and the understanding I have gained from experiences in all aspects of my life. It is not just something I say. It is not just what I do or what I think. It is part of the essence of what makes me, me.

My progenitors

My father was born in Provo, Utah, and went with his family to Southern California when his father was seeking work during the Depression. His mother was of Mormon handcart pioneer stock and his father was a Catholic from Wisconsin. They met when my grandfather was stationed in Provo with the US Army to guard the power plant during early World War I. Grandpa didn`t join the Church until many years later. Grandma was just a small town girl who made great pies and hugged her grandchildren a lot. As a side note, this simple country girl took up china painting when she was fifty and had one of her pieces put on permanent display in the Smithsonian before she died.

My mother was born in Houston, Texas, and was a convert to the Church before I was born. As another side note, her father learned to fly from Wilbur Wright and was one of the “early birds” whose name is engraved on the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Her parents divorced when she was young and her mother joined the Church a few years before she died. Her father was always gracious, but was not interested in the Church.

Even though my father’s mother was a believing Mormon, his family was not active in the Church. Family legend has it that her grandfather was on his way to the bishop’s storehouse to pay his tithing with a wagonload of potatoes when one of his neighbors told him there was no need to go because he had “just been excommunicated” from the Church. Family legend does not say why. My father was baptized quite late for those born in the Church (at age sixteen; the usual age is eight) and he did not set foot in the church again until he was reactivated while serving in the Navy during World War II. Apparently his mother sent word to the Church that my father was stationed in Florida and he was visited by a Church member who challenged him with an inquiry as to what he was doing “about the eternal welfare of his family?” He responded positively to the challenge, became active and converted my mother.

My early experiences

I was born a couple of years later with my father and mother both active in the Church. They took me to church and taught me right and wrong, but were not rigid, by-the-book Mormons. I suspect my mother was never fully converted because she occasionally remarked that she was still a Methodist at heart. I remember my mother once telling me that I would “never amount to anything in the Church because,” as a California Mormon, “I was not related to anybody” of importance. Balancing that statement, I also remember her saying that I was “special” because my father had promised God while my mother was pregnant that he would “dedicate me to His service” if I were a boy (I have an older sister and a younger brother). These comments stuck with me my whole life.

I always thought there was a God. I felt the presence of spiritual beings, especially while going to sleep at night. I attended church meetings with my parents and went up through the age grades in the Primary (the children’s organization). I noticed as a youth that if I sat near the front of the chapel in church meetings that I felt a special warmth that I did not feel if I sat out in the overflow area where most kids wanted to sit. I was never severely tempted to smoke or drink or be immoral. I was just a normal Mormon kid who became an Eagle Scout, studied hard in high school, and looked forward to a life of happiness and achievement. In my senior year at Burbank High School I was captain of the swim team and student body president. I felt like I was king of the school. I didn’t think of myself as a missionary, but found myself frequently involved in discussions about religion at the back of the bus on the way to swim meets and with non-LDS girls I was dating. To my surprise, three of my close high school friends joined the Church. In my senior year I decided to turn down an offer of admission to a prestigious California university and go to BYU. The principal called me into his office and pleaded with me to reconsider because he felt I was about to make a mistake I would “regret for the rest of my life.” A profound turning point for me was when I was getting on the bus for the All Night Party at Disneyland after the evening high school graduation ceremony held in the Burbank Starlight Bowl in the Verdugo Hills overlooking the San Fernando Valley. As I saw the lights stretching over the large valley I remember being struck by the thought that all the “glory” of high school and of this world was fleeting and ultimately of little value. I felt an emptiness that longed for filling.

Going off to college

My parents moved from Burbank as soon as I graduated and I lived with my sister, three years older than I am, in an apartment in a neighboring town during the summer because we both had summer jobs in the area. Those three months were the spiritual low point of my life: I was away from home for the first time and living in a lonely, anonymous environment. My sister had her own life and I felt stranded. I hardly went to church at all that summer. When it became time to head up to BYU in the fall, I looked forward to turning over a new leaf and being completely active in the Church. When I got to Provo, I was 100 percent active in my BYU student ward, and for the first time I discovered how fulfilling and meaningful church service could be. I went to BYU expecting to be surrounded by “farmers” (as a Southern California teenager, we made fun of people at the beach with “farmers’ tans”). I was admitted to the Honors Program and was quickly disabused of any feelings of superiority. I had great professors and was impressed with the quality of the students, and especially of the recently returned missionaries I met on campus. When I started at BYU, I told myself and others that I would go on a mission after completing my undergraduate education, but the enthusiasm of the former missionaries had penetrated and I applied to go as soon as I was old enough the summer following my freshman year.

My mission

I studied Japanese on a lark as a freshman and, not surprisingly, I was called to serve in Japan. I was kind of a “hot shot” at the beginning of my mission because I was one of the very few missionaries who had studied Japanese before the mission. In those days, missionaries were literally dumped into Japanese society without formal language training and were expected to be stopping people on the street and inviting them to meetings during their first week in the country. I remember the first missionary testimony meeting I attended; experienced missionaries bore what I perceived to be fervent testimonies that they “knew” the Book of Mormon and the Church were true. I recall saying something weak like, ”I hope the Church and the Book of Mormon are true.” While not satisfying to me, I did not worry about it, or go tell my mission president that I wanted to go home because I didn’t have a testimony. I just went to work with my companion doing what missionaries are supposed to do, and studied hard about the Gospel, as well as the language. At another missionary testimony meeting a couple of months later, I found myself saying, and believing it, that I “knew” the Church and the Book of Mormon were true and that Jesus Christ was my savior. I can’t put my finger on exactly when I gained this conviction. It just came, and has never wavered since then.

I had read the Book of Mormon only once before my mission and had never read the Bible cover to cover. I came to love the scriptures on my mission. I also learned that the value of a single soul is great in the sight of the Lord. I had one convert baptism to my name when I left Japan, and he went inactive in the Church shortly after joining. However, there was a college student that my companion and I contacted while he was working out with the university swim team just three weeks after I arrived in Japan. We scaled a chain-link fence to get access to the pool area. He was baptized after I was transferred to another area, and he later became one of the top church leaders in Japan who has brought dozens, if not hundreds, of people into the Church during his life. He is a living example of that old saying, “you can count the number of seeds in the apple, but you can’t count the number of apples in the seed.” Despite the paucity of baptisms, I felt a deep satisfaction when boarding the plane home that my mission had definitely been worth the two-and-a-half years I had spent on it.

As a returned missionary at BYU

After my mission in the spring of 1968, I was obliged to enroll immediately at BYU and had to stay for summer school to keep from being drafted. I really didn’t want to be there. My parents had divorced while I was on my mission and my father had remarried to a lovely lady who was not a Mormon. He met me at the Los Angeles airport while I was waiting for my flight to Salt Lake and was smoking a pipe, as if to signal me as to his activity status in the Church. He told me that, due to the change in his circumstances, he could not help me financially and I was on my own. I arrived at BYU penniless and with no idea how I would support myself.

A miracle occurred soon after arriving at BYU, when the professor who taught me Japanese as a freshman told me that I could have a room in his house for free. He had ten children and I was treated as number eleven. I ate with his family and all I had to do in return was to be what I have jokingly referred to as his “slave” (e.g. I built a fence, helped him finish his basement, baby-sat his children and served as his research assistant). This was entirely acceptable because I had time but no money.

One afternoon that summer I was studying in my room at the professor’s house and was not at all happy about life. I felt lonely and wanted to be in California with my family. Like many recently returned missionaries, I had a hard time getting back into the dating and social scene after the mission. I wondered if anyone loved me. In this state of heightened emotional sensitivity, I remember looking out the window and seeing clouds swirling around the top of nearby Mt. Timpanogos after a brief summer shower, and I had a strong feeling I should go outside into his large and private back yard (which I had fenced). The sight of the mountains, near dusk with the setting sun making them aflame with various shades of red, overwhelmed me. I began to pray vocally and asked my Heavenly Father, simply, if He loved me. At that moment I felt as if my body was being filled with a hot liquid, beginning in my toes and moving slowly upwards. When it got to my head I began to cry and spontaneously started to sing the LDS hymn “Oh, My Father,” which goes in part:

O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near thy side?
….
I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

I had no doubt that my Heavenly Parents loved me more than I could comprehend, and all I really wanted in life was to return to live with them someday.

After that late summer experience, the fall semester rolled around, and I was called to serve as the head of the young men’s organization in my ward. I worked with the head of the young women’s organization and we planned and executed many fun activities for our ward. Toward the end of the winter term we started to date and got engaged shortly thereafter. We were married that summer. To my surprise, I was called to serve as a counselor in the bishopric of our singles ward just ten days after our marriage. This reinforced how much I loved church service. I subsequently served in two other bishoprics at BYU before graduating. The opportunity to serve continued in graduate school, when I was called to be a member of high councils while in my PhD program at the University of Michigan and while attending Harvard Law School.

Graduate school

Our first couple of years in Ann Arbor were challenging, both academically and church-wise. I was actually not admitted to the Anthropology Ph.D. program at first, despite the fact that I had a full 4 year fellowship in Anthropology from the National Science Foundation. The professor with whom I wanted to study told me to come anyway and enroll in a Japan Studies M.A. program, while taking the full first year course work for the anthropology Ph.D. program and, thus, getting to know the department faculty. I later learned that I was the first applicant to the program from BYU and a student from Princeton was admitted for the only slot available. I was duly admitted the second year and was not delayed in my progress. A year later I failed the part of my doctoral exams which was read by a professor who was a former Mormon and very bitter about the Church. I told my advisor, with whom I had become very close, that this professor “hated me” (he scathingly referred to my religion as a “cargo cult” in his written critique of the exam), which my professor did not think possible because he said the other man was a “professional.” When told that he threatened me on the telephone with physical violence over an imagined slight, my advisor promptly arranged for a new committee member and I retook the exam and passed.

The ward in Ann Arbor was a real eye-opener to us. There seemed to be a sense of questioning the doctrines and folkways of the Church, especially the idea of deferring to the authority of the Brethren in Salt Lake City. I had a strange feeling that the many psychologists in the congregation were psychoanalyzing me every time I participated in the meetings. I felt like a rube from BYU. In the first couple of years more than one of my cohorts in the ward became noticeably disaffected regarding the Church. I made a conscious decision at the time to not question Church authority or aspects of the doctrine that I did not fully understand. Similar to my experience as a young missionary, I decided to “not sweat the small stuff,” get on with my life and Ph.D. program, and suspend judgment on certain matters until I could understand them later. I consciously decided that my religion was my life and that no amount of “intellectual honesty” was worth giving up or damaging my belief system. I realized that the “group” of believers really mattered to me. This reaffirmed the path that my mission firmly set me upon.

The church experience at Harvard was vastly different than that in Ann Arbor. There was a sweet spirit of testimony and even humility among the many first-rate students and faculty affiliated with Harvard, MIT, and other excellent universities in the area. We loved it in Boston. We had a particularly faith promoting experience while there. The Church needed to build a new meetinghouse for our ward and the bishop (a young professor at MIT) challenged the members, many of whom were graduate students, to contribute to the building fund in an amount that would “hurt.” He said he was reluctant to say this because, from his experience, the Saints were almost always faithful and he did not want anyone to do anything “foolish” by giving too much. The only money we had accumulated was a certain amount set aside to buy a sewing machine, which my wife had earned while babysitting. When the bishop sat down with us to find out how much we would give, we gave him a check for that amount. Surprised, he asked us where we got that kind of money. When we told him, he began to cry, saying this was the kind of sacrifice that he was worried about. At our insistence he accepted the money. A few weeks later I got a letter from the financial aid office at Harvard Law School saying there was an error made in calculating our aid amount and they needed to talk to me about it. Such a notice from that office was almost always bad news (e.g. they found out my father earned more than he said and I owed them money). I went to the office in trepidation. As I talked to them they explained, with some embarrassment, that they were teaching a new employee how to calculate need and randomly pulled my file out of a filing cabinet packed with hundreds of student aid files. They said that while going over the numbers they realized they had under-calculated my need and that they owed me additional aid amounting to over 3 times the sum we had donated. As I stood and related this experience to our ward members in the next fast and testimony meeting, the bishop sitting on the stand again began to cry. My wife got her sewing machine. This reinforced our testimony that Heavenly Father blesses us as we have the faith to sacrifice and live his commandments.

Professional life and Church service

After law school, I was recruited into the management consulting firm Bain & Company and, after three years there, two of which were in Tokyo, I was invited to return to BYU in a tenure-track position in Anthropology. The decision to leave Bain was not easy because I was going from a comfortable income to the likelihood of 1/3 of my salary at that time. I waffled back and forth about going or not, and one evening told my wife that I decided to turn down the university position. The next day I went from our home in Tokyo to Osaka on a business trip. As I ran to catch the bullet train to return to Tokyo, the doors closed in my face and the train departed. To that point, I had never missed at train or a plane. As I stood there , I heard a voice from the far end of the platform calling out “Walt Ames! Walt Ames!” It was my friend, a BYU Japanese language professor, leading a group of BYU students on a study abroad trip who had just gotten off the train I had intended to board. What were the odds of this happening in the teeming Osaka train station? What if I had been two seconds faster and gotten on that train? It immediately struck me that it was literally BYU calling me and that it was an answer to prayer. I called my wife from Osaka, told her we were going to BYU and to have the movers come the next day.

A month after joining the faculty, I was called as a counselor in a BYU student stake presidency and a year later, at age thirty-eight, I became president of the stake. I told the Apostle who called me that I had not yet been a bishop. He told me not to worry about that, to just rely on the Lord and do the job. As he was setting me apart, I felt almost an electric shock as he placed his hands on my head. Afterwards I could not restrain myself from testifying to the small group of people in the room that I knew that he was a true Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. As president of a single student stake comprised mostly of recently returned missionaries and young women interested in that demographic, I had numerous spiritual experiences working with young people as they tried to live the Gospel. To cite just one, I remember an occasion where my counselors and I were setting a young man apart to a position in an elder’s quorum presidency. With my eyes shut and my hands on his head, I saw in my mind’s eye a being dressed in white joining us in the circle with his hands on the head of the young man. After the setting apart I felt impressed to ask him about his father. He told me that he was deceased and had been a faithful member and priesthood bearer. I told him about the experience and said I felt that it was his father in the circle with us. The Apostle who had called me to be stake president (a former president of the university) later told me that he felt the real reason I had come to BYU was to serve as stake president.

After four years or so at the university, and with the blessing of the Apostle who had called me, I left BYU to set up the Tokyo operations of a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based management consulting firm. While there, at age forty-three, we received a telephone call from a member of the First Presidency of the Church calling my wife and me to preside over the Japan Nagoya Mission. Living in Japan for an extended period was not easy for a family (we had six children, the youngest aged two at the time). When asked in a pre-calling “chat” with a General Authority of the Church about how a mission would fit in our lives at that time, my wife was asked for her response first. In her typically honest and faithful manner she replied “Terrible! But if the Lord wants us to serve, we will do so.” She had borne the brunt of raising the children in a tough school, social, and medical environment in Japan. When I was asked, I saw it as a great adventure and said I would look forward to it immensely. We received the call. After being set apart by the member of the First Presidency who called us, he stopped us at the door as we were leaving his office, looked my wife in the eye, and said the things she was worrying about “would not happen.” The mission turned out to be a great blessing in the lives of our entire family. We saw countless miracles during the three years of our unpaid service.

Recent years

Our life has passed, it seems, in a flash since our mission experience. I returned to BYU for another year and then became an executive recruiter with a global executive recruiting firm in their Tokyo office. I worked for fifteen years in several different global firms in this industry, mostly recruiting senior executives to work in multinational enterprises in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Church-wise, I have had the privilege of finally being called to serve as bishop in one of the English-language wards in Tokyo. I am now retired on disability and working as an adjunct professor at Utah Valley University and at BYU. My wife shared with me an insight the other day regarding something that had been weighing on my heart. She said that the reason I had been called to prominent positions in the Church so early in age was that the Lord knew I would become disabled, and if He had waited until I was older I would not have had the chance to serve. The Spirit whispers that she is right. Throughout our married life my wife and I have prayed to be in a position to serve others and our Heavenly Father and we have had many opportunities to do so in formal Church callings and in quiet and informal ways.

My testimony is based on numerous profound spiritual experiences and miracles which I cannot deny, and the realization that life is meaningful only if we serve others. My mother was right in that I have been able to spend my life in God’s service. Of course my life is not yet over, and I hope in the end she will be proven wrong in that I will have amounted to something in the Church. Despite some weakness in my parent’s activity in the Church, I have been able (thanks largely to my wife) to raise a progeny who have founded themselves on the rock of the Gospel.

I know the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth and is found in its fullness in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God and will bring happiness to those who follow its precepts. I know the Church is led by Apostles and Prophets and I have had the blessing of sitting at their feet and hearing the word of God uttered directly from their lips. I know that God lives, that He loves me and that His gracious hand is in all things. My fondest hope is to live my life in such a way as to fill the measure of my mortal creation and to find true and everlasting joy with my family gathered around me in the presence of my Heavenly Father and Mother.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.

Carma Rose de Jong Anderson

I cannot forget how I picked up a perfect, intact snakeskin, about fourteen inches long, on top of the Hill Cumorah in New York state half my life ago. The memory of it is still brilliant, a treasure! Beautifully it showed that, getting my head in a forward position, I can wriggle my body out of the old, useless encumberments. That transparent snakeskin was significant in my metaphorical keepsakes. There were gentle curves of discarded old materials of living left behind, so life could function as a new, enlarged, unique being. I can testify to a number of things, because each year I live, I learn more, struggling out of old ways in favor of something higher. Examples are precious to me because I have learned the source and purpose of life.

I testify that being raised faithfully in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by two parents who devotedly wanted, loved, and helped me (for Eternal Family religious reasons) opened up religious concepts that to me were obviously true and functioned very well! Those concepts grew in me as I traveled and learned in a multitude of different subjects. I could never get enough of school subjects to study and was in school part of every year of my marriage from 1951 until 1992. “Our earth life is to be an institution of learning, in which we are educated for the more perfect hereafter.”1

In constantly being involved with schools and education for fifty-six years of my life since BYU kindergarten, I wanted to know everything the various faculty, especially visiting foreign faculty, could teach me. I became aware of the deeper character of each teacher as an example. There were ways I wanted to make virtues more present in my life (the real goal of Godly education). Some teaching was so offensive in shutting out information, it was a warning to me (another purpose of education).

I learned to pray when barely three, each night at my mother’s knee, as she sat under a lamp mending stockings or crocheting bootees for Ward babies—resting her weak heart. How beautiful is the memory of the quietness of our rented home. I can still “see” the Victorian lamp shade with delicate shirring of mauve and pink chiffon in trapezoidal sections of it, like a drooping flower, and soft colors of beaded fringe. I naively associated praying to Heaven with the small beauties around me in those Depression times of the 1930s. Regardless of their low monetary circumstances, both my parents worked hard for sustenance and beautiful arts, tinctured with love. My mother told me to speak to “Heavenly Father,” and in the self-centered world of the three-year- old, I was then to say, “Bless me, thy little child. . . .” ( I can hear both our voices in memory, clearly, even now!) And then I was to thank Him for whatever was of import to me, and say it “in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

“Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices . . . in whom this world rejoices, who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love. . . .”2

In the 1930s, under snow-capped Mount Timpanogos, Provo was a small town, a peaceful place where no one locked up the house—even when leaving for a six-week trip! I was thankful for growing fresh food in a laboriously irrigated, gigantic vegetable garden my parents always planted. Mama gave me the first little “Grapenuts” seeds and I watched them sprout into small, delicious beets! Irrigation water on my bare feet was life-giving, feeling the closeness of the neighborhood environment surrounding me. I almost understood those blessings were of God.

Daily I used the faith of my parents, and the Comforter and Healer of my dreadful sicknesses and of fourteen fractures from an accident when surely I should have died. When I was a child, my Papa’s blessings flowed from those large, warm hands of the Priesthood on my damp hair, and saved my life and the lives of others of his descendants, many times. They restored sight to my niece’s child, and perfect health after a terrible strep infection in my toddler son—within minutes, so we all could leave on an important trip. I could have died at least nine times, but religious faith and the sudden, protecting hand of God totally, physically, intervened. My compassionate mother gave me quarantined nursing care through the 1930s; new medicinal techniques arrived for me just in the right hour. Twice! And my thirteen-year-old son Gerrit pulled me to safety from drowning. My husband, over and over, used his Melchizedek Priesthood and I did not continue to bleed to death, multiple times after operations. I have often pondered why I was not born in a mud hut with no advantages.

I was born four homes away from Provo’s old Fourth Ward on Fourth North. There, I was named by Papa and the bishopric, with a middle name of Rose (for my sweet brown-eyed mother, Rosabelle Winegar). When home for a summer in Utah from Harvard, my husband, Richard, named and blessed our first baby, born in Cambridge, MA, and she wore a dainty, fancy bonnet which Mama had made for my blessing in that same chapel! That was a comfort to me, to climb those stairs with my Roselle to the haven of that particular chapel. My older sisters and I had walked down those exterior Fourth Ward stairs with our Papa, all our eyes red and streaming, when I was only nine, to bury my Mama after her sudden death. How I hated that casket, covered in rose-designed plush in honor of Rosabelle. The drive to and from Salt Lake is still a blackout for me. I watched the casket lowered into an icy grave next to baby William Gerrit, my parents’ firstborn only son, in the Salt Lake Cemetery. I stood there in banks of ice-crusted January snow with no one’s arms around me, in my too-short winter coat, no cap or mittens, freezing and silent.

Work is a balm of Gilead for sanity. Papa lost twenty-five pounds in grief, as he was so faithful to his work on the General Board of the Sunday School and doing too much as dean and teacher at the University. He still took Nola and me on small, deliciously mapped and planned trips all over the West. Papa read to me a history of the world, warmly every night at bedtime, for the year of fourth into fifth grade, after our loss of Mama. He turned my mind out to the world of Doing! I learned eagerly, with wonderful descriptions of cultural geography, and from every class and drama and art project of school I found satisfactions. I was even sewing costumes on Mama’s treadle machine for three of my fifth grade friends whose mothers were “challenged” by sewing, for the annual Spring Jamboree of the grade school. (“What inadequate mothers!” I thought.) Belle, my newly-married sister, generously came home with her husband to live with us—and stayed almost two years managing our home, since Nola was a young teen. Tall, patient Dean Van Wagenen’s cheerful attitude saved me. He was there, every day after work, and told me new things, included me in table games, spoke of his mission with real love, and empowered me to learn how to fly a kite on windy Wasatch days! With his gorgeous, untrained voice he sang with the Symphony playing in our big-box standing radio in those hollow Sunday afternoons when Papa was often out of town. My responsibilities were ever-present in gardening, watering, scrubbing, and dusting “my” golden gumwood stairway. In later years, I would promenade down to boyfriends in my homemade beautiful gowns (some were my sisters’ made-over gowns) of every hue and fabric for dances—where I had usually decorated the ballroom also, in high school and college. In those days we tried mightily for grace in ballroom dancing, but matinee high school dances were for fun, the Lindy and Jitterbug. I relished designing and making most of my own clothes, on the old Singer treadle machine. I felt that, because I had watched my mother’s wonders at making-over, cutting and sewing, anything was possible to make!

Nola married during her time at BYU and was living in California, and she invited a smart, kind, Honolulu Chinese girl to live with us for her starting at BYU. She was the perfect older sister for me, as I was barely fifteen. Papa took me, a high school sophomore, and Jean Fung Char to some places in Mexico .We climbed the frighteningly steep Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan with mission friends there. I imagined all the valley of Mexico full of the dwellings of ancient peoples, feeling the ancient spirits. I lingered so long up in the cool sunshine, they had to call me down. I felt like part of the glorious Cosmos!

For the Sunday School Board, Papa went out to the tiny LDS branches in operation, and I saw the sociological mixing of long-term “Gringos” with Mexican wives, and ate their homemade spicy chocolate mole, and sang with the cheerful missionaries surrounded by rich designs of azulejos. I saw in rural Mexico, for the first time, how the gospel lifts up people of every kind. The Lord gently leads them from their own conversion starting-points, and respects their ethnic and traditional differences. All Latter-day Saints didn’t have to be living my lifestyle in Provo, Utah! That trip was a walk away from ignorance and bigotry and the beginning of universal love for me as a missionary member of the True Church.

For many years I have well known there are evil spirits, with their leader, Lucifer, who fought his way out of his Parents’ influence because of extreme selfishness and desires to control Heavenly Father’s children for his own aggrandizement. I have no doubt of the spiritual effects of evil on conscious and semi-conscious human beings, especially those impaired by alcohol or various drugs or mental illness. Anger alone is essentially a drug that reduces Godly intervention. Evil’s goal is not our eternal progress, but our eternal paralysis. Today, meetings are offered in the newspapers to help us in “Letting Go of God.” What a sad exercise.

I know there is a Spirit World not far from us, which my Grama Rosa Shaw Winegar (b. 1855 in Salt Lake City) often saw. She had many significant dreams and visions guiding her life and foretelling many things that were imminent in her family. Her father, Osmond Broad Shaw, converted in Staffordshire, England, was of the same deeply thoughtful and religious bent, a privileged son of a brilliant chemist, linguist, historian, and schoolmaster who wanted nothing of Mormonism. Osmond worked hard, but joined the True Church through young George A. Smith and John Taylor. Yet Osmond realized with Paul that his faith should not “stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”3 Rosa’s mother, Eliza Wilding, herself a skilled corset maker with hand sewing, found the first apostle-missionaries in England (separately from Osmond) as a dream of hers had predicted, and she brought the gospel to her staunch shoemaker father and seamstress mother. My German-American Winegar Great Grandfather, Alvin, carved the stone of the Nauvoo temple.

Our Gods’ powers have been demonstrated to me in vivid ways. I know with certainty that I have Heavenly Parents, and the most righteous, loving, and creative of their sons is called their Beloved Son, actually my Spirit Brother—a concept that shocks the Evangelicals and that they try to twist against the Church. Our Gods all labor in their concern for every person born on this earth, and a multitude of other earths, some just beginning and some highly glorified worlds without number, unknown to us yet.4 The Gods I worship know who I am and what my needs are, both before and after my prayers of gratitude for guidance (or frantic desires for help and comfort!). And their blessings to me have been “heaped up and running over,” in the prophetic words of my patriarchal blessing, given to me when I was fourteen. I had no preparation whatever given me by Papa or the bishopric for my patriarchal blessing, as we try to do for our children. My mother was gone from this life five years before. Yet the man in the Lord’s office knew well by inspiration what to tell me. Patriarch Amos N. Merrill had lived a righteous, sharing kind of life. He knew and told me to “give your mind to much study and reflection,” with the implication that was one of the ways I could honor my Savior Jesus Christ.

I believe that the ancient biblical prophets led mankind toward the God Jehovah (Jesus Christ), whom they knew well, and in many other parts of the world there were philosophers trying to advance their culture—though not understanding Christ’s mission. Every culture had values in the symbology of a “Tree of Life,” expressed in sacral art and texts. Wise ones lived their teachings with a sense of conscience and ceremony. All people have the blessed Light of Christ, whether they understand it or not, whether they suppress it or not, and they often suffer or cause severe damage on earth when it is suppressed. It is a memory of what is right or wrong, divinely there. When a man or woman steps backwards into atheism, he or she is simply casting out the communications of the Holy Spirit and retreating to a position less responsible. A wave of increasing casualties is in our Christian nation, where many political leaders’ lives exhibit a ragged and worn-out form of “Christianity,” or ignore Judaic morality. Babies bring a light, and fading memories, when born. Some things of this life, from ages one and two, my husband and I can remember. We had strong social opinions of right and wrong even then.

At the age of two and a half, my little daughter, Chandelle, the last of our three miraculous adoptions, was alone with me on errands one rainy morning and, as the sun shot glowing rays of light through high cumulus clouds, we sat quietly, parked in front of our home, enjoying the beauty of the sky. She was gazing raptly at the light, and I softly asked her, “What do you remember . . . before you came to us?” Without breaking her gaze, she very slowly said, “Jesus . . . hugged me . . . and hugged me . . . and hugged me!” I paused a long time by this raven-haired messenger, still fresh from the Spirit World. Certain lights in nature, poetry or music help us “almost to remember” our pre-earth life.

The restoration of Godly Priesthood powers was accomplished in the nineteenth century through an earnest, inquiring young man, Joseph Smith, but at first he had not even the early education of his older brother, Hyrum, because of a reduction of the family’s earning power through crop failures, debts unpaid to them, and a common, timeless crime: embezzlement. Succeeding generations in the modern world are blessed exponentially, as are the spirits whose bodies have died on earth in ignorance of Christ’s plan, because of Joseph Smith’s relative freedoms living in America. Prophets of old held the powers of God to exercise them for eternal consequences, and divine messengers came from the Spirit World to educate Joseph Smith, and sometimes other persons were with Joseph when revelations came and they saw what he saw, heard what he heard. Vitally important history and doctrines, and ancient styles of living and worshipping, were taught Joseph privately in visions and conversations, as he and his mother mention in their histories. They needed to teach him the physical and spiritual aspects of particular peoples and places. They were his educators, to enlarge his capacities as a seer. Joseph’s large Palmyra family listened regularly to their middle son, of an evening after work was done. Around their hearth he told them of ancient peoples, travels, and destinations, in great detail, before he ever possessed the golden plates. This was not just a waiting period for him, but an educational period of very specific advancements in spiritual and historical facts, while he performed heavy physical labors of daily life for his family and married a wife in 1827. His family and Emma Hale knew his life intimately, and knew he did not lie or fantasize.

I realize more fully, starting my ninth decade now, how blessed I was to be born into a careful and believing family, a ward, and a stake of the Restoration, which offered me so much cognitive stimulation and opportunity to associate with disciplined people who meant so well! They were attempting to follow closely the refining doctrines and principles of the Bible, the Restored Gospel scriptures, and modern revelation. I realize that they were good because they lived the Restored Gospel.

My spiritual perceptions and expansive travel taught me: Jesus is my Savior, my Redeemer, and the Atoner for my ever-increasing ability to sin! I feel that my sins now, after years of trying to put into action the tenets of my religion, would bring a far greater harm to me than when I was ten or twenty, for my knowledge is greater now. I hope I can endure with a “hearty repentance” until my death.5 As a girl of seventeen I stood at the base of Brazil’s gigantic statue of Christ on Corcovado, one of the high hills in Guanabara Bay of Rio de Janeiro, and looked upward in awe at that massive white stone. At that age I realized, though dimly in comparison to now, that in the great events of Christ’s Atonement, there was more power in one drop of Jesus’ blood than in all that beautiful stone—visible from far away in a great airplane. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Oh, that we could only understand, that by the shedding of His blood, He bought us!” (Dedication of my Provo Temple site, 1970.)

I lived until marriage in the beautiful dream house that my Parents had built, which (Belle always added, with tears) Mama had enjoyed only four years. I helped Papa with carpentry and improvements in cement outside; I loved to mix with the shovel, and carefully tooled it to Papa’s standards of art. I asked many gospel and linguistic questions all the time (as I do with my knowledgeable husband still) while I built the back wall with mortar and garden rocks for our yard fireplace. Papa was always insightful in doctrine and especially in its application, and was an encouraging teacher for me in languages, musical history, and cutting wood safely with his power saw; I developed strong hands in pruning our fruit trees, played on his baby grand’s perfect ivory keys, and practiced thrilling piano pieces he introduced to me. Long delicious hours a day in my teen years I practiced, with inquisitive joy, for the little black notes were a “code to joy” in great music! Papa gave me lessons any time we could get together for fifteen minutes. It was crystal-clear demonstration and critique.

The University, on lower and upper campus, was my cradle, my youth bed, my playground. The old buildings had shadowy mosses, shiny chestnuts, and fluttering leaves that begged to be watercolored in the sun, and they made imagistic poems of themselves. All I needed was to write the flowing words on paper. And they were soon published. With passion I loved the great trees around my home, Dutch Elms of ancient age, Black Walnuts, huge Ash and very old Arborvitae grown tall, and Catalpas with queenly tiaras of white flowers. It was heaven under their branches, and they were my favorite subjects for art, with architecture and the Creator’s endless flowers.

There was no dancing taught at BYU. However I pleaded, Papa would not let me take the city offerings of dance. “Bad teachers are worse than no teachers!” Wanting it so much and so early, I was in the right family to see the modern dance concerts of renowned barefoot Martha Graham when I was only five, then again at about age eight, on that splintery College Hall stage. I still remember two of her dances. They touched me visually, but very spiritually, as a child. One was a piece augmented by special lighting of lavenders and bluish greens called The Fountain, where Graham never took a single step away from one spot on stage. She was the personification of playful water. The other composition was Judas Iscariot (I knew the horrible story), with Martha Graham dressed in a dark grey robe with maroon striped coat, with a dark turban covering her hair. After the traitorous actions of Judas’ decision to betray Jesus, the “man” realized the intense gravity of it. Moving toward our family’s front seats, into the shadows against the black stage curtains, “he” went into the knotting and jerk of strangulation, swaying slightly from the rope where” he” hanged himself! The red velvet drapes slowly closed. . . . Graham could hang herself with no rope! What power to reach a human heart is in art!

My going with Papa for a year in Brazil at age seventeen in the spring of 1947 was a multi-faceted experience in Santos, one hour away on the beach from the fastest growing city in the world! On the plateau of Sao Paulo, they had only a few members of the Church, and sometimes we could ride the bus up to meetings with Mission President Beck’s family. Gerrit de Jong, my father, was called by the US State Department to make democratic friends with the Brazilians, directing a center of English teaching, with visiting speakers, and American literature. Papa directed the Centro Cultural Brasil-Estados Unidos in Santos—one center of many, trying to counteract the dangers of Communism and Nazism penetrating South and Central America. Dean de Jong of Fine Arts was also Portuguese-trained in his field of linguistics, and he supervised my teaching an adult professional men’s class, and teens in a large class. I was hired to be librarian,, and socialized, of course, with the young adult club. Gradually at parties I let myself go, and loved dancing the samba, “Como uma Preta!” (In later years my husband and I could really samba down a ballroom in the early ’60s period of Latin dancing in USA.) There were four lovely men in Brazil seriously courting me, ages twenty-four to twenty-eight, who thought I would make just the right wife at seventeen! I was appalled! “I don’t know enough to be anybody’s wife! I believe in education . . . have many years of university studies to accomplish in the U.S. before marriage!” I would not marry in the Santos Cathedral (where I was an honored bridesmaid) nor under a Jewish canopy in Sao Paulo, but in the Salt Lake Temple in Utah, at an altar of Jesus Christ! We pleaded for missionaries in our smallish city and were finally sent two, so we held the first meetings in Portuguese in our own apartment, with one weak investigator. Five years later in the USA we read there was a chapel built in Santos, as Brazil began to explode with Mormonism.

In 1948, I came home to my graduation from B Y High School because of amassed summer school credits. During university years my heart was set to go away on a foreign mission, but Papa had been a widower for a decade and begged me not to go, but to stay with him in the university until I was married. So, I satisfied myself with a stake mission. And obedience to my parent put me in the right place at the right time to meet my own husband for eternity. The Lord “told me in my mind and heart” that the fall quarter of my sophomore year was the time to take a class from Hugh Nibley. I argued with the Spirit that my program was full! At this constant insistence, though, I found a class, any class, and betook myself at 9 AM to “Oriental History.” What Nibley taught was “Lehi in the Desert,” Arabic/Egyptian/Hebrew research he was currently doing: I lapped it up like my cat! There was a tall, dark-eyed fellow across the room who always sat with a married man. They both made very pithy comments and I said nothing, just drinking in Nibley! But Sidney B. Sperry and Hugh Nibley had brought the returned missionary Richard Lloyd Anderson to teach missionary preparedness at BYU for a scholarship; they pulled him away from Weber College near his parents, after his famous methods brought very fruitful results in the Northwestern States Mission. By extremely convoluted and romantic means, I later began dating this “RM” from Nibley’s class. I “knew” on the first date by means of a story so unbelievable it is not written here. But we spent a lot of courting time sitting on Dr. Sperry’s desk while he filed things and told us powerful anecdotes of his education, as well as standing discussing Dr. Nibley’s latest research in his next door office, where shoe boxes of “his own Arabic shorthand” research cards were piled on the floor, amidst books all over the rest of his walls and floor. I loved these scholars. In ’49 my art-major boyfriends—one classic Californian, a tall German, a red-headed football player, and the gorgeous Persian I had tried to convert—stood on the sidelines and I couldn’t even see them! There was no other person on earth I wanted to spend time with except RLA.

The next ten months we spent untold hours a day together as he taught me and taught me the gospel, making me laugh, making me cry, and most of the time feeling awe for how little I knew and how tremendous the Gospel really was! He knew so much enticing history and doctrine all over the scriptures, from his heavy reading of early Mormon apostolic leaders. He, himself, was a passion and taste I had never before known. He had very little money, no car but an occasional borrowed one, and a very lovable family in Ogden. He gifted me with my first personal scriptures, leather bound, name in gold. Need I say that young women, especially in the 50s, seldom had their own scriptures? I had always relied on our family set. Papa, my continuing language teacher, was saying to me, “You take the Book of Mormon around every day with all your school books!” Very formally, I said, “It is one of my school books. I am reading it through for the first time! And that prophet Ah-bin-ah-di is a hero!” Papa looked at me askance: “That’s a Hebraic name, and you’re pronouncing it in Portuguese!”

I went away to Harvard Law School with my true love in’51. I was encouraged that I had met the lovely lady Papa had fallen in love with on a speaking tour in Idaho, soon after my marriage. A silver-haired, talented educator, Thelma Bonham, was married to Gerrit de Jong in the Salt Lake Temple in the fall, just when we were searching for a place to live in the East. We relished life in New England, and I studied in a Cambridge community art class in gold-leafing designs, a most exacting skill for New England furniture I much wanted. Richard and I studied French together in Harvard night school to add that important language to our tools. The Cambridge Branch was full of lifetime friends, and, with our toddler daughter born in Massachusetts, we came back to BYU. Then, soon after Richard passed the Utah Bar exams, he dumped his JD in law and did an MA in Ancient Greek with Hugh Nibley. He was teaching all kinds of classes in religion at BYU. From our attic apartment I simply crossed the street for remarkable art training in ceramics night classes. After my three-year-old Roselle was early asleep, Richard could study at home some nights of the week, while I gained credits at BYU. When he landed two scholarships for a PhD in Ancient History, we went to Berkeley at the University of California. Right there, with Roselle in her first kindergarten and Richard gone on his bicycle, I could drive to campus for many master classes from a world expert performer in Hindu dancing. I constantly partook of the noon lectures at the University, which exposed me to the ideas of some of the greatest minds even beyond America. In Berkeley First Ward, I designed and helped construct huge extravaganzas for raising thousands for our Welfare Funds all in one night! It was richly rewarding among many resident friends, and we escorted non-Mormon friends to our ward. The year Hugh and Phyllis Nibley moved their whole family for him to teach at Cal Berkeley, he studied more Egyptian language. I spent every Tuesday night at the Ward learning the Old Testament from him. He analyzed the Hebrew Kittel version of the Bible and translated verbally to us in an astounding stream of data not readily apparent in King James English. Genesis on. It changed my entire understanding in new dimensions of Old Testament events and doctrines.

When we arrived back at BYU, we brought our eight-year-old Rosie and our four-month-old blond son, Nathan, from the County Adoptions in Oakland, California. In three more years, while taking a six-month sabbatical we drove in the winter all over the eastern states, always ahead of the ice storms, for Richard’s further ancient studies at museums while the rest of us clambered through art museums. We arrived home to our gift of a big strong ten-month-in-utero son, Gerrit, who had stubbornly waited to be born through LDS Adoptions until the night we were on our way home to Utah. He was brown-haired and brown-eyed like my husband and mother. Three and half years later I woke up one morning with another revelation for our family. That was “the day I should call LDS Adoptions” to tell them they would give us another child, a daughter—minutely specified this time after our two boys had come as the Lord kindly determined. I told the LDS agency to recognize this child when she came very soon, because in five or six years we would be teaching on a BYU semester abroad in Salzburg and, by then, our last child had to be old enough to enjoy her foreign six months. They protested but sent us application papers, telling us “Think years!”

In exactly nine months she was born and they finally re-read our application and, from the whole page of description I had written (e.g., black hair and eyes, very tall height, and what artistic talents would come from her parents, etc.), pronounced, “This is Carma’s baby!” We took her at five years old to teach in the BYU Salzburg Semester Abroad, with all three of the older children already having studied German in their summers or winters. I gave the first credit classes in world art history from a planeload of heavy books to prepare my students for European museums at spring break. Our rarest experiences: string quartet music live in the smaller re-creation of Versailles at the exquisite palace island of Chiemsee, and living in a chalet on a big mountain above Salzburg. But greatest of all was the family attending, in the icy-cold Dom of Salzburg, an ethereal Palestrina mass from the 1500s. Bundled in long coats and full winter regalia though we were, it was still worth it, simply the most divine music I ever heard in my life!

Intermittently, every time we landed back at BYU, I was a faculty spouse with free credit classes! Finally, in ’76, I shared the de Jong Concert Hall stage with Papa in his Stanford PhD blue-velvet-trimmed robes for my BA graduation in art, with a modern languages minor. That was the last time he had the strength to come to the campus before he died of cancer. It was gratifying for him to have one of his daughters finish college. I had spent twenty-eight years doing it in multiple areas of study, every one fabulous to me!

When I received my PhD at age sixty-two, I had driven thousands of miles around the USA, coast to coast, to meet with curators to photograph clothing of the nineteenth century, and traveled in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales, and in continental Europe, with red carpets laid down for my research and cameras. After using my own money, and grateful for a grant from the Kennedy International Center at BYU, I finished my dissertation and graduated in 1992 wearing my father’s robes, with a black velvet mortar board, and real gold cord tassel. Before my dissertation could actually be published for the world, I insisted on going to Scandinavia to enlarge its time frame. I received $16,000 in grants for Scandinavia, with translator Andrea Darais necessary for our hearts to be at home in those lands of the Great Northernness! I am making quality reproductions of Scandia folk costumes. Fifteen of them were used in the twenty-two Olympic performances in the “Zalt Lake Zity” giant stage of the LDS Conference Center.

The motivations for research have come from seeing so many LDS Visitor Centers around the U.S. and England, and LDS publishing and films for the last 65 years, We often have good painters and good sculptors, but rarely any accurate content! LDS films and all illustrations or fine artworks included little authentic clothing or hairstyles to show how our ancestors really looked. The contents are out of sync with dates claimed in the words, and one single painting or film can have badly jumbled time frames in clothing and artifacts! BYU will publish my expanded, expensive big dissertation on historic clothing and textiles as a necessity for all the various didactic arts of the Church. There will be no royalties for their publishing, nor any for me, from my fifty-five years of research. Adding another decade to my writing to cover the British and Scandinavian hand carters, is like writing three more dissertations, but it will be finished—though overdue. My consolation for having so many “life and death” distractions slow me down comes from a Harvard graduate, the first female President of Liberia. “I believe I am a better . . . person, with a richer appreciation for the present because of my resilient past.” Her speech was at Harvard, for graduation 2011.6

Richard and I were working with great effort to raise and educate four precious, precocious children. I was at home most of the time all those years, but driving for short and long research trips all over the U.S. for studying and photographing historic clothing of ethnic forms of early Mormons—while Richard was carrying heavy loads and counseling as a Religion teacher, as a campus bishop, etc. But he was a beloved father who went through the ups and downs of ourselves and our children learning how to live like Latter-day Saints. We were very early gone on research trips, with and without parts of the family, long before the Internet, and our travels opened up new worlds which excited all of us. Added were the chances of death: by Richard’s one, and my two, successful bouts with cancer.

Along with my graduate schooling, I spent thirty-four years restoring Historic Sites for the Church, producing everything of textile construction here in Utah, sewn by hand. All items had to be designed, patterned, and cut out by me previous to passing some things on to my trained women in period hand sewing. From on-site multi-national handling of clothing and 1000 books I gathered on costume and art, I had men make the proper shoes, and hats were purchased or hand made in exact period styles. Some woolens had to be dyed historic colors for draperies, to match window mullions’ paint colors. I have seen thirty-four years of photographs in Church publications of sites done by me and my architectural genius boss, Don Enders. Different design changes of clothing advanced relentlessly every five or ten years through Church history. The Mormon History Association just surprised me with a special recognition award in St. George, Utah, at its annual meeting for 2011, for those difficult works did not happen by a magic wand! That award does not include sculptors, painters, book illustrators, and re-enactors I have worked with individually and constantly, who found they could get trustworthy help in undisputed content for their arts. Now we will begin to restore Harmony, Pennsylvania, for the first translating with Emma as scribe to Joseph, and then the restoration of both Priesthoods by the end of May 1829. No finishing date yet for the Susquehanna site.

Richard and I are living in our eighties. I recognize our families’ lives were directed by God and his inspiring help through our efforts in history research, writing, teaching, and all the arts.. We have personally known great numbers of brothers and sisters, marvelous children of God on three continents, both Mormon and non-Mormon. We are missionaries for Jesus Christ and Restored Living Prophets with Priesthood power, in every way and place and form of communication we can find.

Karl Ricks Anderson:

My conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s restored Church is centered in Joseph Smith and his calling and work as a prophet. A friend characterized my feelings for Joseph when he said, “I love Joseph because of the many thousands I meet who love and believe in Jesus Christ because of him.” Joseph Smith centered his life and teachings in Jesus Christ. He re-introduced Christ to the world. Revelations dictated by Joseph focused on Christ and His redemption of mankind. The words of this canonized Book of Mormon scripture, translated by Joseph, stood at the center of his life: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26)

In 1838, Joseph felt compelled to compose his equivalent of a press release. In it, he clarified what he considered to be the foundation of the church. He said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 30)

In revelations given to Joseph Smith, Christ bore witness of Himself and His mission of atonement and redemption dozens of times. The Savior reinforced, expanded, and clarified earlier teachings and introduced new principles and insights into His redemptive mission, declaring it to be “glad tidings.” In one revelation, Joseph recorded, “This is the gospel, the glad tidings. . . . That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; That through him all might be saved.” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:40-42) Joseph recorded the key aspects of the Savior’s mission and His willingness to take upon Himself the sins of the world. He documented the Savior’s suffering and agony. He documented well over 100 descriptive names and titles that Christ used for Himself that identify aspects of His divine mission.

Joseph Smith endured a lifetime of persecution. Apparently, like ancient prophets, it was part of his calling. In an early revelation, Joseph was told, “Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many.” (Doctrine and Covenants 24:8) Toward the end of his life Joseph exclaimed, “The envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life. . . . deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation.” (Doctrine and Covenants 127:2) However, also like ancient prophets, Joseph apparently had received this divine assurance, which he declared, “They never will have power to kill me till my work is accomplished.” (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 58)

My conviction has also been strengthened by research that clearly shows me that Joseph knew and willingly accepted his life of intense persecution. Like the ancients, Joseph was willing to endure all and even offer up his life in the pattern of his Master. His life became one of never-ending persecution, affliction, false accusations, and imprisonments. He was falsely arrested over twenty times. He was severely beaten, tarred, feathered, mocked, and derided. In one instance, he was jailed for months, during the cold of winter, in primitive and inhumane conditions with only prison bars for windows. A son died as an indirect result of one attack. Mobs chased and forced him, with his wife and children, out of four states into Illinois where they martyred him. He could have easily stopped all of this had he been willing to recant what he knew to be true. But, he could not! He said:

How very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age… should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling…. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. (Joseph Smith History 1:23-25)

In one instance, after a severe mob beating which almost cost Joseph his life, his commitment and relationship with the Savior became evident. He said:

I will try to be contented with my lot knowing that God is my friend. In him I shall find comfort. I have given my life into his hands. I am prepared to go at his Call. I desire to be with Christ. I Count not my life dear to me only to do his Will. (Dean C. Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p. 238)

One of his close associates disclosed private conversations wherein Joseph confirmed that he understood his fate, “He often said to me…’I shall die for it . . . It is the work of God and he has revealed . . . it.’” (Brigham Young Discourse, Oct. 8, 1866, Church Archives)

Joseph Smith lived under the constant scrutiny of harsh critics who did not believe in his divine calling. Many judged him unfairly and looked for faults they could expose. Joseph conceded, “Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charged with doing.” (History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 140) He addressed his own faults and said, “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 366) On one occasion, in addressing statements of critics, he blurted out in frustration, “I have it from God, and get over it if you can.” (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 475) Perhaps those who want to understand Joseph would benefit most by focusing on what he gave the world as a prophet. A great example of this is the Book of Mormon. Speaking from the perspective of a mature author with an advanced college degree, I could not even begin to attempt to compose what the young, uneducated Joseph did—and he did it without the capabilities of a computer. I know of no other author, as well, who could have accomplished such an undertaking. A recognized authority put the translating effort in this perspective:

One of the most amazing facts about the Book of Mormon is that it took Joseph Smith only about sixty-five working days to translate a book that, in the current edition, is 531 pages long…. That works out to be an average of eight pages per day. At such a pace, only about a week could have been taken to translate all of 1 Nephi; a day and a half for King Benjamin’s speech. Considering the complexity, consistency, clarity, artistry, accuracy, density, and profundity of the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Joseph’s translation is a phenomenal feat. (John W. Welch, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Jan. 1988, 46)

Joseph became a conduit through whom the equivalent of over 1200 pages of holy scripture were given, which have become an inspiration and beacon and have been treasured by millions who love Christ and have drawn nearer to Him through these pages of scripture.

My testimony is strengthened through my research of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries who were present during visions of Deity and direct revelation from the heavens. I have researched over twenty men who signed published statements certifying that they were witnesses to the divinity of his revelations. Over twenty-five saw visions of Deity with him. Others heard the voice of God. Some left detailed descriptions of the personage of God and Jesus Christ. Hundreds, with Joseph, saw and heard angels. These many additional witnesses bear irrefutable testimony of the divine work the Lord began through Joseph Smith

It is my conviction, based upon research, prayer and a lifetime of experiences, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and did restore Christ’s church once again on the earth. God and His son, Jesus Christ, did in reality appear in vision and instruct Joseph Smith many times, beginning in 1820 near Palmyra, New York. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated the importance of this divine beginning simply:

Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heaven. . . . This must be our great and singular message to the world. We do not offer it with boasting. We testify in humility but with gravity and absolute sincerity. We invite all, the whole earth, to listen to this account and take measure of its truth. (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 78)

I love Joseph Smith. I love him because he endured trials and persecutions and was faithful to his calling. He even gave his life for it. I love Joseph Smith because of the Book of Mormon and other divine scripture he revealed to the world. The Lord speaks to me through their pages. I love Joseph Smith because he received and dispensed the keys to temple building and ordinances, assurances, and covenants. I feel God’s Spirit there. I love Joseph Smith because of the peace, joy, happiness and love that come into my life radiating through the Gospel he restored.

I am amazed at all Joseph accomplished in his short thirty-nine years of life, which were cut short by assassins’ bullets. After many years of research, it is my conclusion that Joseph Smith is who he claimed to be—a prophet of God. I believe that he felt his central mission was to testify of Christ. I firmly believe that he would want us to place our focus and belief on Jesus Christ because of him. Yes, I love Joseph Smith. Because of him, my quest has become one of striving to draw nearer and become more like my Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

R. Jerome Anderson:

In the 1990s, I lived and worked in Russia. Elder Charles A. Didier of the Seventy presided over a district conference in Moscow during that time. In the Sunday morning session, he asked how many members were converted by the Spirit as compared with the number who were converted by intellect. By far the majority of hands were raised when he asked how many were converted by the Spirit. I raised my hand when Elder Didier asked how many were converted by intellect.

I did so because my initial testimony came through the intellect as I read a pamphlet entitled Which Church Is Right? by Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve. On a cold February day in 1964, when I was 14 years old, two LDS missionaries knocked on the door of our home in western Pennsylvania, a few miles north of Pittsburgh. Because of the bitter cold, my mother felt sorry for them and invited them into the house. The elders left some church literature, including a copy of the Book of Mormon and Elder Petersen’s pamphlet. When I came home from school I began looking through the material. As I read Elder Petersen’s pamphlet, I was struck by its logic: the Saviour lived on the earth; He called twelve apostles to lead his church; He gave them authority; they organized and led his church; eventually they died1 and the authority was thus lost; only a restoration of the power they held could permit the re-establishment of the Lord’s church; that restoration took place when Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and conferred on them the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained them apostles. I was convinced on that reading. To me, that explanation made perfect sense.

My mother was a faithful member of a small Disciples of Christ congregation. She taught five-year-old children in the church’s Primary organization and served as a deaconess. The church’s motto was “where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” My mother took me to church with her. The church had excellent Sunday School teachers who taught me the stories of both the Old and New Testaments.

When I was about eleven or twelve years of age, the church had a membership drive. A friend in my Sunday School class had been baptized. I asked him what the requirements were for baptism. He said he simply had to acknowledge Jesus Christ as his Saviour. I thought to myself “I know Jesus Christ is my Saviour. I can be baptized.” Accordingly, one Sunday morning, as the hymn of invitation was sung at the close of the service, I went forward and sat in the first pew, signalling my intention to be baptized. I was then baptized by immersion in the font behind the pulpit at the front of the church.

Thus, when presented with Elder Petersen’s pamphlet, I had a testimony of the Saviour. I knew the stories of His ministry. I knew who the early apostles were and what they did. I knew of Peter’s visit to Cornelius and of the missionary journeys of Paul. I knew that Paul had organized congregations of the church in Galatia, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Ephesus. And it was obvious to me, once Elder Petersen explained it, that when the apostles died, the authority to lead the church died with them.

My mother was not pleased with my acceptance of Mormonism. My mother’s church was very important to her and, except for a few family members and friends, was the center of her social life. I was her only child and my father had died several years before. My mother’s hope was that I would become a minister. Leaving her church was not what she had planned for me.

However, by September of that year, when I turned 15, my mother had reluctantly decided to join the LDS church with me to keep us together. An October baptism was planned. A few weeks before the baptism my mother and I went to a home of a family in the Christian Church to tell them of our plans to join the LDS church. The husband and father in the family was an elder in the church, a choir member, and a member of the church’s governing board. After my mother announced our intention to leave the Christian Church to become Mormons, emphasizing that it was my idea, not hers, the father took me into the dining room. I recall being in the dining room with him for four hours, from 8 PM until midnight. During that time he discussed every scripture he knew that might dissuade me from my decision. He was an excellent scriptorian, and we discussed concepts and verses, with neither of us convincing the other. Finally, close to midnight, he showed me Revelation 22:18. In his interpretation, the Book of Mormon could not be true because it improperly added to God’s word. I had to admit I had no answer to that. My mother and I then went home. During the evening, she changed her mind and decided she would not join the church and that I would not do so either.

At lunchtime the next day, instead of eating, I went home from school and called the missionaries. Elder Gordon L. Bown answered the phone. I told him what had happened the previous evening. I asked him how to deal with the issue raised by Revelation 22:18. Elder Bown told me to get my Bible and open it to Deuteronomy 4:2 and read it. I did so. Then Elder Bown asked me “Can God add to God’s word?” Of course I knew the answer to that question. That ended any doubt or hesitation on my part regarding the truthfulness of the Gospel.

Following this, my mother forbade me to have any contact with the church, and to wait until I was 21 to be baptized. I could not endure six years with no contact with church members, so I surreptitiously contacted the missionaries and a few church members for another year before the missionaries told me I had to tell my mother what I was doing. I did so, and it hurt her deeply. Fortunately, her pastor had been a convert himself, and he counselled her to allow me to attend the church of my choice, saying it was better for me to attend a different church than reject religion altogether. On that basis, my mother permitted me to attend church on Sundays only. She did not, however, permit me to be baptized. I attended church without being baptized until July, 1968. By that time I had completed my freshman year at a nearby Presbyterian college and, through the intervention of Norman R. Bowen, then president of the Eastern Atlantic States Mission, was permitted by my mother to transfer to Brigham Young University. Knowing that I would leave for Utah in September, my mother permitted me to be baptized. After more than four years since my initial reading of Elder Petersen’s pamphlet and my realization The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true, I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church.

Even at age 14, when I read Elder Petersen’s short pamphlet, I was convinced by its logic. That is why I raised my hand as I did when Elder Didier asked his questions. Even to this day, logic plays a strong part in my testimony. Having been reared a Protestant, surrounded by Catholics, now living among Muslims and having an understanding of Judaism from reading the Scriptures and current events, I am convinced that either the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true, or there is no God at all. The Gospel as taught by the Church is the only logically consistent religion on earth. It is this, or nothing.

This is not to say that the LDS Church has the answer to every question. It does not, nor does it make that claim. We still have not found “the generation where Gods began to be.” (Hymns, number 284.) But every system of philosophy eventually reaches a set of unanswered questions. Each person must decide the set of unanswered questions with which he or she is willing to live. Yes, Mormonism has unanswered questions. But I would rather live with Mormonism’s unanswered questions than any other set of unanswered questions.2

The Spirit, however, is also very important to me. One summer, during the time our family lived in Kentucky, the Lexington Kentucky Stake participated in a large LDS scout camp in Ohio. Leaders from the General Young Men Presidency attended the camp and told us of a study conducted by the Church. The study found that, among young people in the Church, the greatest predictor of future Church activity was the individual spiritual experiences of the young people. In spite of the role of intellect in my testimony, I believe the survey’s finding regarding spiritual experiences is valid. As important as the intellectual side of my testimony is, it is experiences with the Spirit that sustain me.

There are times I feel, as Lehi did, that I am a “visionary man” (1 Nephi 5). I felt the Spirit strongly as I gave the opening prayer in the first discussion with the missionaries. I received my patriarchal blessing while I attended BYU. When I explained to the patriarch that I wished to work overseas, he told me, even before he laid his hands on my head, I was “inspired of the Lord to choose that calling.” The first time I saw Margery, the young woman who became my wife, I knew I would marry her. I saw her across the room in the Pittsburgh 2nd Ward Chapel and I knew, almost instantly, she was to be my wife. Many years later, when Margery was considering graduate school, she asked for a blessing. At the time we lived in Frankfort, Kentucky. When I laid my hands on her head, I saw in my mind a building. I knew the building was in Lexington. I did not remember seeing that building previously. Yet I blessed her that she would go to the University of Kentucky to complete her doctorate, and I knew it would be in that building. The next time I went to Lexington, I saw the building. It was the Chandler Medical Center on the UK campus, and Margery earned her Ph.D. there.

I have had similar experiences when I have blessed my children or laid my hands on the heads of others to give blessings of comfort and counsel or to administer in times of sickness. Thoughts and feelings have come to me that I knew I did not and could not have formulated myself. They had to come from a higher source.

One of the most moving experiences with the Spirit came in December 2007, when I attended Fast Meeting in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Ward of the Sunderland, England Stake. I felt impressed to bear my testimony. Many of the members who had spoken had said they were converts. I stood and had the overwhelming impression in the pre-mortal existence I had chosen to be a convert, to be a member of Elder Pieper’s “first generation.”3 When I sat down I cried. I could not help it. The Spirit was too strong.

There are many times I have asked myself “Do I know it is true?” “Do I really know there was a Man called Jesus Christ who was conceived by God the Father and who wrought an infinite atonement for the sins of the world?” And then I remember the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who told us that scientists do not begin each experiment by proving anew the formula for water. They know that; it is a given. It does not need to be proven each time.

So it is with my testimony. Doctrine and Covenants 46: 12 states: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.” When I was just a boy, before I knew anything of Mormonism, I knew Jesus was the Christ and my Saviour. I walked to the front of the First Christian Church in Beaver, Pennsylvania, and made my confession of faith and was baptized. I knew it then, and I knew it later when the fullness of the Gospel was presented to me. I do not have to prove, over and over again, that these things are true. My mother may have died without joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but she took me to a church in which I could learn the fundamental truth of the reality of the Saviour and His atonement, and when the fullness was presented to me, the Spirit, as well as my intellect, confirmed to me that it was true.

Life in some ways has become progressively more difficult. The challenges have sometimes been discouraging. Sometimes it is difficult to “feel” (1 Nephi 17:45) what I know to be true. It has been especially difficult to sustain a strong, unwavering testimony during weeks and months away from organized units of the Church as I have worked in remote parts of the world. It has been difficult to go for extended periods without a calling in the Church and the resultant spiritual strength one receives from rendering service to others. I have sustained my testimony by a detailed study of the Book of Mormon and by frequent listening to the hymns of the restoration. Doing that brings the Spirit back, and eases the doubts and disappointments.

A counsellor in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Stake Presidency, Dale Weight, used to conclude his talks by saying “I know, through experiences too sacred to relate, the Gospel is true.” So it is with me. I know, through sacred experiences from my youth forward, that the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. God our Father lives, Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was the first prophet of the last dispensation and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. This is my testimony, and I bear it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

——–

Notes:

1 Except John, who was translated.
2 Reid R. Reading, a long-time member of the Pittsburgh First Ward and my comparative politics professor at Pitt, once said “We all need to learn to live with a little dissonance.” I can accept Mormonism’s “dissonance.”
3 Elder Paul B. Pieper, October General Conference, 2006.

Rick Anderson:

As a fairly reflective and rational person, I often have occasion to examine the important choices I’ve made in my life. Most of them are pretty easy to understand and explain: going to college, marrying the person I did, becoming a librarian, having a few kids—none of these is a choice that would raise anyone’s eyebrows. I know, however, that what I consider the most important choice of my life is one that many find strange, for reasons that I completely understand. Having spent my career in an academic environment, where this particular choice can seem especially questionable, I’ve found that some of my colleagues are mildly incredulous, while others, I sense, are puzzled but politely avoid the issue. Some of the latter are probably fearful of what I’d say if they asked. So I’ve decided to explain it as best I can, in the non-threatening form of a personal essay that no one has to read if they don’t want to.

I’m referring to my choice to remain a Mormon. I say “to remain a Mormon” because there’s no mystery as to why I started out as one. Although I grew up in Massachusetts, I was born into a Mormon family and was raised in the Church. At no time were we ever “inactive” while I was growing up; my family went to church every week and we participated in all the normal church activities. We held weekly family home evenings; my father and I were home teaching companions; I attended early-morning seminary throughout high school. So it’s easy to understand why I was a Mormon kid—really, I had little choice. Mormonism was inculcated into me from my earliest years, and I never understood it as one of several legitimate lifestyle options. Mormonism was the truth, and it was the way life was lived in my home.

I’ve heard it said that you can’t choose your family or your religion, and to some degree I suspect that’s true. However, there have been several points at which I’ve had to make deliberate and conscious choices about my spiritual life—about whether I actually believe, first of all, that there is any such thing as a “spiritual life” at all and, if so, what it really means to pursue it.1

At the moments in my younger life when I needed to decide what I believed and how I should live, the questions I was addressing—though at the time I probably couldn’t have put them into these exact words— were the following:

  1. Is there a God who is real and exists outside of the natural order?
  2. If so, does Mormonism teach accurately about God’s attributes and expectations for us?
  3. If so, do the doctrines, covenants, and practices that comprise Mormonism constitute a set of uniquely true principles and put forward a uniquely true and necessary set of prescriptions for living—or do they only represent one valid set of spiritual options among many?

When I was a child, like most children, I accepted what my parents told me about these issues, because a) my parents seemed to know everything and b) they clearly wanted what was best for me. And like most young adults, I eventually came to question the things they taught me. Not just once, but in an ongoing and recurring pattern throughout my life, one that I think is normal, essentially healthy, and likely to continue indefinitely.

The first time I remember seriously questioning my Mormon beliefs was, ironically enough, when I was in the Missionary Training Center preparing to leave on a two-year proselyting mission for the Church. My concern wasn’t with any particular points of doctrine; I just came to the sudden and sharp realization that although I had gone through my life up to that point operating fairly comfortably on the assumption that God was real and that the Latter-day Saint conception of God was accurate, I had never come to a truly independent conviction that those propositions were true. I had accepted that they were true and had more-or-less willingly (if very imperfectly) structured my life around that acceptance, but as I was preparing to actually spend two full years of my life testifying actively to their truthfulness I came to the belated realization that willing acquiescence to the doctrine probably wasn’t going to be enough to make me an effective missionary.

I should point out, though, that being an effective missionary really wasn’t my primary concern at that point—my concern was about being a missionary at all. I had actually been dreading my mission. If I was honest with myself, I saw it as an interruption, a wall I was going to have to climb over before I could get on with the real business of my life, which was going to school and pursuing my career goals and getting married and raising a family. As it is for all new missionaries, the transition into missionary service was wrenching for me. When I departed for the MTC I left a girlfriend behind whom I missed very much. I found the scriptures boring—not especially baffling or hard to believe, just generally uninteresting. I was not then and am not now an especially sociable person and I cherished having time alone, and knew that a mission would require me to be in someone else’s close presence nearly around the clock. I loved books and was obsessed with music, and knew that as a missionary I’d have to give up most of my favorite music and all of what I most enjoyed reading. But most of all, as an essentially shy person I had no desire whatsoever to knock on strangers’ doors and offer to talk to them about my religion—I knew that in most cases it would be annoying to them, and that few if any would have any interest in hearing what I had to say. I knew that proselyting would be embarrassing and at times humiliating, and that the vast majority of the people I’d encounter would think I was a deluded fool at best and an irritating zealot at worst. My pride and my intellectual vanity made (and still make) the prospect of being seen in either light very painful.

It wasn’t that I felt missionary work was in any way a bad idea; I understood what it was about the gospel that made such work good and necessary, and I knew why I needed to do it, and I was willing. But I expected it to be difficult in particular ways that were especially painful for me, and I was not looking forward to it.

It was in the context of these feelings that I realized I had to have a firmer and more independent knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel if I were going to go forward and complete my missionary service. Again, at this point my goal wasn’t to make myself a more effective missionary. I was making a binary decision: either continue on that path or go home. To make that decision, I needed to know whether the gospel was true. I knew that if I gained that knowledge, I could do what needed to be done even if it was difficult or embarrassing. But I also knew that without it, I probably couldn’t.

I had felt what I understood to be the influence of the Holy Ghost at various times in my childhood and adolescence, and I think that I already had a fairly good understanding of the difference between emotional and spiritual feelings, so I was pretty well prepared to ask the question that I asked on my knees one evening at bedtime. I must not have been alone in the room, since it housed four of us and we were never left alone. But it seems in my memory as if I were alone when I knelt down and made a very simple and straightforward prayer. It was along these lines: “Heavenly Father, if you are there, and if what I’m about to do is in fact what’s right and required of me, please let me know now. Because I have to know; otherwise I’m going to go home and pick up my life where it left off.”

I received an answer to my prayer. It came promptly, and it came powerfully enough that there was no question in my mind as to its origin or its message. It was clear to me that it originated outside of myself. Although I was not a very spiritually mature person, I had already learned from experience to recognize the difference between the somatic, chemicals-in-the-stomach sensations of emotion and the fundamentally different feelings that came from the Holy Ghost. What I felt was spiritual, and the message was clear: God told me that he was there, that he loved me, and that I should continue on the path on which I had set out.

This is the point at which I fully expect to lose the attention of anyone who is firmly committed to a rationalistic and naturalistic worldview. Someone who has already dismissed the idea of a spiritual realm will read the above and say “You only think you discern the difference between emotional and spiritual feelings. In fact, what you’re experiencing are just different flavors of emotion.” It’s a perfectly reasonable response, and it’s one to which I’ve given a lot of thought. But the more I think about it, the more I bump up against something I really can’t deny: the fact that the feelings that are born within me when discussing matters of an eternal nature are in fact different from the feelings that I have when dealing with anything else—and not subtly different, but radically. They don’t carry with them the baggage or the side effects of physical emotion: rarely do they make me cry; they never leave me with a feeling of catharsis; they never raise my level of physical excitement; I don’t feel them in my stomach, the way I do anxiety or anticipation or desire; and most significantly, they don’t come in response to a wide variety of stimuli. Spiritual feelings come to me only when dealing with spiritual things, and they always somehow push away emotional noise rather than add to it.

Having these feelings and impressions has taught me what I think is a valuable lesson about the nature of evidence. When dealing scientifically with the physical world, evidence only counts if it can be shared and replicated. When dealing with the spiritual world, evidence is generally private and not shareable—and though it may in a certain way be replicated, what is replicated ends up being equally private and personal to the person who experiences it. In other words, my spiritual experiences can’t prove to anyone else the existence of a spiritual world. In the strictest philosophical sense, they can’t really “prove” it to me, either. (I could always find some way, however far-fetched, to explain away my spiritual experiences. Even a direct angelic visitation, like any other experience, could at some point be explained away as a hallucination.) But while they can’t give me proof, they most certainly can give me evidence—private, unshareable evidence, but nevertheless real enough for me to work with in my own life. And this, I’ve come to believe, is the essence of faith: faith isn’t just picking something to believe in and then proceeding with your life on the assumption that it’s true. (It’s not, in other words, just “belief combined with action.”) Faith, I think, consists in gathering spiritual evidence and then putting it to an empirical test. You start with a little bit of belief and you apply it, watching the results; as you do so you learn something about the rightness or wrongness of that belief and are simultaneously equipped to gather more evidence. Over time, you build a structure of faith that becomes stronger as its foundation is deepened and thickened by the accumulation of evidence and experience. This process may not be “scientific,” but it is certainly empirical. It is what I believe the prophet Alma describes in the Book of Mormon.2

What this means, I think, is that faith and reason are inseparable. Faith doesn’t mean belief despite a lack of evidence; faith is a result of the gathering and testing of evidence. Reason is what allows me to recognize the connection between, for example, hearing someone bear testimony of the reality of Christ’s atonement, and feeling a powerful spiritual response to that expression of testimony. Without reason, I wouldn’t see any connection between the expression and the response, and I wouldn’t be able to recognize the unfolding pattern of connections between similar experiences and similar responses throughout my life. But I suspect that few if any of us will ever have experiences that are explicit, powerful, and direct enough to let us suspend faith altogether. The evidence will always be partial—it will always be at least theoretically possible to conjure up an alternative explanation for any particular miraculous experience or internal spiritual prompting. Thus, to me, putting faith into practice means:

  1. Accepting, at least provisionally, that spiritual experiences are what they seem to be;
  2. moving forward on the basis of that acceptance, altering my behavior as appropriate;
  3. seeking out more such experiences;
  4. watching, thinking, and praying about what happens next.

As I try to pursue this course of action, I find that I continue to have just enough of these experiences to keep me going. And again, although this approach requires me to move forward with incomplete evidence, at the same time it seems fundamentally rational to me. My spiritual life is a house of experiential, and partly intellectual, inquiry built on a foundation of trust—trust that the things that powerfully seem spiritual to me really are. This trust keeps being rewarded, usually in subtle and gentle but very often undeniable and sometimes overwhelmingly powerful ways, and always in ways that are very clearly different to me from my experiences with physical emotion. For that reason, I’m able to keep feeling my way forward with a reasonable level of confidence, even though my actual knowledge is partial and in some ways contingent.

When I got up off my knees from that prayer in the MTC, I knew both that I must and that I could carry on and serve a mission. That knowledge didn’t make it any easier, however. My mission was difficult in exactly the ways I thought it would be, and at times the difficulty was excruciating. There were moments when I had to force myself almost physically to do the things that were required. On my second day in the mission field, my companion thought it would be a good idea for us to go to a large urban park and split up—staying in sight of each other, but stopping people and talking to them on our own. After he walked away I had to sit on a park bench and gather my strength. The thought of accosting someone walking by on the path and trying to engage him or her in a discussion about the gospel made me want to run away screaming. But by this point I had confidence in several propositions: God was real and loved me, and God wanted me to be in a park talking to people about the gospel. The gospel was true, and since the gospel was true, it was important enough to be worth annoying people over. So as painful as it would be for me, I knew I needed to do it and I would. And I did. And it was indeed painful, and awkward, and at times embarrassing.

My entire mission was very difficult. I was not as effective as some missionaries, though I was more effective than some others; I was consistently obedient and diligent, and I had some exquisite experiences in parks and in meetinghouses and in small, shabby rooms with people of varying backgrounds who desired, in varying degrees, to come unto Christ. When my companions and I taught doctrine and bore testimony, I felt my soul vibrate in response as the Holy Ghost bore witness to the truthfulness of what we said, and I watched the eyes of those we taught as they felt the same thing. Seeing others, who came to these discussions without the baggage of a lifelong grounding in Mormonism, feel something that was very obviously much the same as what I was feeling deepened my conviction that what we were teaching was real and true and that what I was feeling came from something external to my own mind. In those moments, spiritual evidence truly was shared between us, though not in any way that could be documented, measured, or captured for future examination by others.

When my mission came to an end, I was able to look back on it with joy and satisfaction, despite the flaws in my preparation and some of the rather stupid things that, in retrospect, I could see I had done. I felt (and still feel) confident that my sacrifice was accepted, and, much more importantly, that my missionary service was a life-changing blessing to some people, and perhaps to many others of whom I’m not aware.

Nothing in my life has led me to have confidence in the concept of “happily ever after.” Completing a mission did not mark the resolution of my spiritual struggle or the culmination of my testimony building. Instead, it laid the bottom layer of a foundation upon which I’ve worked to build ever since. In doing so I’ve had tremendous, even transcendent, spiritual experiences, as well as moments of serious doubt and crisis.

Those experiences have taught me several things. The most important of them, I think, is that a testimony—a conviction of the truthfulness of the restored gospel—is a fragile thing. This is surely as it should be, though it may sound strange to say that. A typical response of the unbeliever to a believer’s expression of faith is to ask “If God exists, and if he wants you to do his will, why does he make it hard to find him and make communication with him so much a matter of intuition and interpretation?” This is a fair question, and it takes its place alongside all the other fair questions about God: if God is both real and good, how can his creation include so much that is evil? Why does God allow so much tragedy and pain, if he actually does love us and want what’s best for us? Why do so many who claim to represent God on earth turn out to be corrupt, craven, and foolish?

One reasonable, though facile, response to all of these questions is that God wants us to grow and that we grow in part by striving after him, by suffering, and by making choices—some of which will be bad and some of which will necessarily impinge on others. But I think there is a deeper answer as well, and it’s implied in the questions themselves. To object to the existence of God on the basis of the difficulty of knowing him or the awfulness of our lot is to imply necessarily that if there were a God such as the one described by Mormon doctrine, our lives and our world would be substantially different. For that implied argument to have any weight, one should be able to answer the question “How would life be different if there were a God?” In other words, how much suffering is allowable before we decide that God can’t exist? How many genocides, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and earthquakes can take how many lives before we say “This is too much. This reality is incompatible with the existence of a personal and loving God”?

In order to be taken seriously, the answer to this question doesn’t have to be precise, but it should at least have some shape and weight. Does the Holocaust disprove the existence of God? The World Trade Center attack? The Darfur genocide? Suppose that none of those, and nothing close to them in severity and brutality, had ever occurred—would the skeptic be more inclined to believe in God, or would the bar simply be set at a different level? In a world in which the worst-ever human disaster had taken the lives of dozens rather than millions, would we say “This world is kind and gentle enough that I can countenance the proposition of a kind and gentle God in heaven,” or in that circumstance would the smaller-scale tragedies horrify us just as much as the large-scale ones that drive so many away from belief now?

I think this brings us back to the more facile explanation: rationally, I think that even horrific tragedy—for all of the questions and concerns that it can and should raise in the minds of thoughtful believers—can and probably must exist in a God-created world where the primary purpose of life is not comfort, pleasure, long life, or even the avoidance of awful suffering, but rather growth and development through hard experience and the exercise of agency. Sometimes answers are facile because they’re false and easy; sometimes they seem facile because they’re both simple and true. I think this is one of those.

Another thing I have learned is to recognize and respect my own intellectual limitations. One of those limitations is a deep and intractable impatience. I jump to conclusions too quickly, assuming that I’ve gathered all the evidence I need for a decision when in fact I should wait and gather more. I keep having to learn that lesson over and over, a fact that leads me to suspect this to be an ingrained problem of my personality rather than just a bad intellectual habit. Having recognized this tendency, I’ve learned to stay away from anti-Mormon literature. I have at times found myself shaken by something negative or critical I’ve read or heard, only later (sometimes much later) to find out that what I read was unfounded or that there was far more to the story than the critic had reported. No matter how many times I go through that process, I still fail to learn the lesson it should be teaching me.

So now I generally avoid critical literature, though not without some misgivings. I realize that there’s a certain kind of danger in ignoring the critics: growth requires opposition, and to actively cultivate ignorance of opposition is to risk becoming soft and complacent. Nor is it healthy to pretend that there are no legitimate questions about the doctrines of the restored gospel, the foibles of Church leaders, or Church history. There would surely be something fundamentally perverse about a testimony that relies on ignorance of the truth for its strength, and it is absolutely true that Church leaders are fallible and imperfect, that some aspects and elements of Church history are troubling, and that some Latter-day Saint doctrines are unclear and even strange. A real testimony, it seems to me, has to acknowledge and deal with those issues, not pretend they aren’t there. But it matters how one approaches them, and I have learned to do so in a way that takes into account my own particular blend of weaknesses and strengths.

And again, this seems to me a reasonable state of affairs. A loving God who wants us to grow and learn can reasonably be expected, I think, to put his children in situations where their faith will be challenged. (This isn’t to say that the existence of trials and problems proves the existence of God; only that I don’t see how they can disprove it.) A true church, even one led by real revelation under divine authority, can also be expected, I think, to be administered on earth by people who have faults and failings, and who present a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. To those who say (or, more frequently, imply) “Your church can’t be true because Apostle So-and-So demonstrated clear hypocrisy in such-and-such a situation,” I respond, “If the Church were true, how much more perfect would its leaders be?”

I feel as if I’ve used a lot of words to say very few things, but I’ve wanted to be as clear and as thorough as I reasonably can. When people ask me about the nature and content of my faith, I’m often hesitant to say much for fear of looking silly. Putting my response in writing has served two purposes, one more worthy and one less so. The more worthy purpose is to set out the foundation of my belief as clearly as possible. The less worthy purpose is to try to show that I’m not dumb or irrational. One of the things I dislike very much about myself is the vanity that leads me to feel I must do that. As with everything else in my spiritual life, I’m working on it.

—-

Notes:
1To be clear about what I mean by “spiritual”: As much as I respect the beliefs of others, I have to confess that when people talk about the “spiritual” from a naturalistic perspective, the word seems pretty empty to me. If you believe only in the existence of the natural world—the material, physically perceivable, measurable world—then I don’t see how you can give the word “spiritual” a lot of real meaning without radically redefining it. So when I refer to a “spiritual life” I mean something that has reference to a reality beyond the natural world. Philosophers use the word “supernatural” to refer to that reality. In this sense, the word “supernatural” doesn’t have the woo-woo connotations that it does in casual language. When most people say they believe in God, they’re saying that they believe in a supernatural order—in something real that exists beyond the natural world that we perceive and measure with our bodily senses. When I talk about questioning the existence of a spiritual realm, it’s the supernatural order, that “world beyond,” that I’m talking about. (For now let’s leave aside the implications of Joseph Smith’s teachings about the physical properties of the soul and the inseparability of the temporal and the spiritual.)
2Alma 32:27-43.

Gerald Argetsinger:

I’ve been told that I am a scholar. I don’t really know about that. I’m not sure what a scholar is. Yes, I have all of the outward markings of a scholar: I have published articles and books; I have published narrative fiction and drama; I have created art. If that makes me somehow a scholar, then so be it—I am a scholar. But I am also something that does not fit comfortably within the usual parameters of scholar: I am a believing Christian; a Christian of the Mormon variety. I believe that the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth in these modern times through a prophet, called of God, named Joseph Smith.

What does that mean? It means that the priesthood, or power to act in the name of God, has been restored to the earth by heavenly messengers. I believe that through that priesthood, the organizational structure that can bless the lives of all humankind has been established by the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Within that organization the ordinances of salvation are available to every person who will accept them if they are willing to live the few redemptive basics outlined by God’s called prophets. These principles are outlined in the Book of Mormon, where Alma teaches potential converts what it means to “be Christian.” He teaches that “to be called His people” we must be “. . . willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” and that we must “. . . stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things” (Mosiah 18:8-9). The crowning achievement of the restoration is what Mormons label “the plan of salvation.” This is Mormonism’s unique contribution to Christianity which answers the questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? And, what is to become of us after this life? In answering these questions, modern day scriptures enhance exponentially our understanding of the creation of the world, the roles of our first parents, and the need for a Savior. Furthermore, a greater understanding of Jesus Christ’s great gifts of overcoming the physical death (the resurrection) and the spiritual death (the atonement) are made clear.

How can a scholar profess these things?

How can I do otherwise? Throughout history, wise men and women have struggled to understand the purpose of life. They have struggled to understand histories and to create philosophies. “So we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell, by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born” (Clive Barker, Sacrament, 1996). My joy as an academic and artist has been the luxury of immersing myself in the written and creative works of the great thinkers. But the most significant lesson I learned was taught me by a recent convert to the Church in the small town of Kolding, Denmark, where I was serving as a Mormon missionary. My companion and I were riding our bikes heading to who knows where, when we happened across one of the member ladies. We stopped to chat and learned that she was on her way home from the movie theatre where she had just seen My Fair Lady. For her it had been a wonderful experience, which she eagerly recounted. Then she said something that has guided my career these past forty years. She told us that she loved re-watching movies she had enjoyed, and loved re-reading books she had enjoyed ever since her baptism. “Everything is new. Everything is more wonderful. Everything means so much more to me because I am experiencing them with new eyes because of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” She taught me what the Lord meant when he said, “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).

In the New Testament, Paul teaches us to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21), excellent advice for a person carrying the burden of “scholar.” One morning in 1985, my wife and I were getting ready to leave the house and head to church for our Sunday services when I opened the front door and stooped down to pick up the Rochester, New York, morning newspaper, Democrat and Chronicle. Emblazoned on the front page, in large block type, was the headline, “Book of Mormon Proved False.” The story went on to talk about a bookseller, Mark Hoffman, and a letter he purportedly discovered that came to be known as “The Salamander Letter.” That and many other news stories have come and gone that have proven to be troublesome for some members of the LDS Church: the translation of the Book of Abraham, DNA and native Americans, Book of Mormon geography, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, polygamy, and church involvement in political issues, to name just a few. On none of those issues did I turn to Mormon apologists or polemics, neither did I hide my head in the ground just wishing for comfortable history or the salve of equivocation. Yet every one of those issues has been resolved thoroughly and peaceably within my own mind, most often when I least expected it. Once, for example, I was reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann and another time reading No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones by Carol Lynn Pearson, when clear answers were manifest by the Spirit to some of the issues on the back burner of my mind. This is not remarkable. This is exactly how the Lord promises us that he will speak to us by “the still small voice inside.”

I do not ground my testimony completely on spiritual/aesthetic intuition. I have been blessed to have seen the hand of the Lord in my life, sometimes in very startling ways. As artists, my family was blessed to have callings with The Hill Cumorah Pageant: America’s Witness For Christ for almost twenty years; my wife was costume designer and I served in the Pageant presidency and then as artistic director. Time and time again we witnessed the hand of the Lord as He blessed the lives of pageant participants, often for reasons that remain private and personal to them. When I was called to be the director, the primary concern I faced, for example, was how to cast 650 cast members into the huge variety of roles demanded by the script. By way of contrast, casting the thirty-eight actors for a Broadway musical may require over a year; casting a college or community production calling for just a handful of actors usually requires three or four days. At Cumorah, the cast arrived on Friday, were assigned roles on Saturday morning, and began rehearsing that same afternoon. Traditional methods of casting are not possible. A previous director, Jack Sedarholm, explained the technique developed by Harold I. Hansen to “cast by the spirit.” Since all but one of the roles in the original pageant (1938-1987) were male, the artistic director would have all of the men file past in a continuous single file. As he considered a specific role, one of the actors would seem to stand-out from all the others. That participant was assigned the role in question. That system was the method of casting for all directors from the beginning through the first two years of the revised pageant, 1989. But then the process broke down because the new script had ten times more name characters, including many roles for women. As the new director, I had not experienced that kind of casting and I felt the need for a new approach.

A few months before my first season, I was speaking at a fireside in a small chapel in New York’s Southern Tier. A young man whose family had long been involved in Pageant was there speaking with me about the “pageant experience.” As “Craig” stood up to speak I received a strong prompting which I recognized as the Holy Ghost, that Craig was to be cast as “The Descending Christ,” one of the two most important roles in the production. “Oh!” I thought to myself, “This is how it works.” Having learned my inner lesson, I remained quiet, feeling the confirmation of the Spirit. But I did not report it at that time. Having had that experience, I prayerfully considered how to re-organize pageant casting. As the new cast members arrived on Friday, my associate directors and I were in the office greeting each and every person. They all thought we were just being friendly. Actually, the casting process had begun. As we talked with the incoming participants, we took notes both of “types” and of any “inspirations” we might feel. I, for example, had that same strong witness, experienced at the fireside, when one man came through the line that he was to be assigned the role of King Noah. On Saturday, we divided the men and women and organized them by age groupings. We organized the major roles in groups and divided the responsibility amongst the directors to cast various scenes. This was to be done by the spirit, following the principle that parts were to be assigned “by two or more witnesses” (D&C 6:28).

The directors began with prayer and then commenced the casting process by going to the appropriate age group of men or women where they selected six or seven potential actors who fit the physical stereotype for the role in question. A brief audition was conducted and the director got an impression for which actor should be chosen. Then a second director was shown the group. In most instances, both directors were impressed to select the same actor

During and after the process we began having remarkable experiences. When I cast the role of the Descending Christ, I told Craig that the Spirit had selected him the night of the fireside. He was astounded. It turned out that he had decided not to participate that year. It was not until two days before Pageant, when his circumstances changed, that he decided to join his family at Cumorah. Again, when I was about to select King Noah, the young man I noted the day before stepped out before his name was called. After I verified he was selected, he told me that on the flight to New York he had been impressed by the Spirit that he would play King Noah. It terrified him to the point that he almost turned around and went home. You see, he had recently been re-baptized a member of the Church and was not certain that he could endure playing the role of an apostate. He was perfect in the role, though, and had an affirming experience. At the end of casting all of the participants had gone their ways, to get costumes or rehearse, while the directors reviewed the cast. We were horrified to discover that neither Mormon nor his son Moroni had been selected, a devastating omission. These were two critical roles and all of the actors had already been assigned. We would have to bring back everyone in those two age groups. At that moment I looked over and saw a middle-aged man and an older teenage boy. I asked them what parts they had been given. They were a father and son, first time participants from Ohio, and they had been overlooked. They were perfect for Mormon and Moroni. The Lord had provided. It was not until the second week of Pageant that the father took me aside. He told me that he and his son had come to see the new Pageant its first year in 1988. Since that time his son had been praying for the opportunity to play the role of Moroni in the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Receiving these roles was a direct answer to his son’s earnest prayer.

Another year’s casting of the role of the Virgin Mary for the Nativity Scene resulted in a vivid spiritual experience for the entire cast. As the director reviewed the potential actresses, she felt impressed that a Japanese sister be included in the group. Not only was the participant not Hebrew or Caucasian, she could not speak English. After the audition process the director felt impressed that the Japanese sister should be given the role. She asked one of the other directors to review the potential sisters. After seeing them, he quietly said, “It may seem strange, but I think we should select the Japanese sister.” That was the second witness and she was awarded the role. Not speaking any English, the Japanese sister did not understand what had just happened. All she knew was that she was pointed toward the casting computer operator and was handed a card with her name and the role, “Virgin Mary.” At the same time in another location, two other associate directors were casting men for the same scene. As the Japanese sister arrived at the computer table, the young man selected to play her husband “Joseph” arrived at the table. Remarkably, he had just returned from a mission to Japan. He was able to be her guide and translator through the entire rehearsal and performance process. Time and time again, the Spirit witnessed who should be cast in various roles, sometimes to serve Pageant, sometimes as an answer to prayer, sometimes to serve the individual, most often for reasons that we never learned.

I learned a great spiritual lesson through my involvement with the Hill Cumorah Pageant regarding how the Spirit testifies. As part of the production process, we emphasized the spiritual development of the cast alongside the practical development of the show. We took time not only to rehearse, but to study the gospel in this sacred place and to enjoy the Spirit that was there. One evening, a few minutes before the performance was to begin, I was walking through the audience and happened across two gay theatre friends who had come to see the show. That was no great surprise, Mormon celebrities and even sports figures and movie stars of other faiths had been in our audience. But these two were unique. One was a theatre friend who I knew hated large cast productions and crowds. Ours was a cast of hundreds and an audience of thousands. I greeted them and asked if they’d like to sit in the reserved seating. They declined and we agreed to chat after the show. At the conclusion, I went over to where they had been seated and discovered they were gone. Given who the men were and what the circumstances were, I was not really surprised. A couple of weeks later, however, I received a call from one of the men. He apologized for leaving immediately following the show. He explained, “We were too overcome to talk. We just had to leave and process what had happened. It was the most spiritual experience either of us had in over a decade.” That was a testimony, that when one is engaged in the work of the Lord, the Spirit touches the hearts of everyone. The great lesson of Cumorah, for me, is that the spirit with which a work of art is created lives on in that art and touches the lives of all those who experience it.

As a scholar, how can I not testify of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of the Gospel? I have witnessed it in my heart by the whisperings of the Spirit. I have also seen the Lord’s hand manifest in the lives of scores of his children. It is my pleasure and my responsibility to share that testimony with you. And I do it in the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Marilyn Arnold:

How is it that I, trained in the academic profession at one of the finest graduate schools in the country, turned out to be a believer rather than a nonbeliever? Among some academicians there is the notion that scholars are supposed to be religious skeptics, even cynics. But there is an odd phenomenon in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The more educated a Latter-day Saint is, the more likely he or she is to be active and committed in the faith.

A few years ago, at an international literature seminar, the subject of religion came up in a late-night conversation I shared with several colleagues. We sat out on the deck of a large conference lodge, gabbing, gazing at the night sky, listening to crickets, and enjoying each other’s company. One of the women in the group turned to me and said, “You’re a Mormon, aren’t you?” And I answered, “Yep, I’m a believer.” She seemed surprised that I would say openly, without qualifications, “I’m a believer,” and she confessed that she was deeply touched by my statement. “Most people don’t say that and mean it in quite the way I sense that you do,” she said. “Especially not scholars.” Then I pointed out that in the Church, I was the norm. I’m educated; I believe.

Another person spoke up and asked why the Church kept growing and thriving when it had so many “rules.” I laughed and replied that maybe it thrived because it had a lot of rules, because it wasn’t especially easy to be an active Latter-day Saint. “Don’t most if us grow to love the things for which we sacrifice?” I asked. “Don’t we come to value something that requires more of us than a warm body in a pew once a week, or once in a while? And the more we give, the more we devote our energies and resources to an institution or a cause or a person, the more it, or that person, becomes a part of us and precious to us. Any parent should know that.”

The day after that conversation on the deck, the woman who had seemed touched by my comment approached me again, “I still can’t get over it,” she said, “that you would say you were a believer right out loud—at an academic conference, no less.” She paused, then added, “I’m glad you did. It’s given me a lot to think about.” What I didn’t explain, but what she probably understood, was what I meant by describing myself as a “believer.”

Perhaps I should have said that I believe in a Godhead composed of three distinct personages—the Father, His divine Son, and the Holy Ghost. I also believe that only through Jesus Christ can we mortals be redeemed from temporal death and from spiritual death. I believe, too, that Christ restored His full Gospel of salvation, and the attendant holy priesthood and ordinances, in modern times, through a devout young prophet named Joseph Smith. And I believe that He still reveals His will through living prophets today. Outside observers tend to focus more attention on what Church members are instructed not to do rather than on what they are. I would be naïve if I pretended that all believers toe the line in all departments all the time. But what I can say is that most of us try. And most of us thank the Lord every day for the principle of repentance.

I further believe that the Bible is not the only word of God. The Book of Mormon is the most powerful testament of Jesus Christ ever published, a worthy companion to the Bible. Of the many hundreds of books I have read, none has touched me more profoundly than the Book of Mormon. Without question, it is the greatest book I have ever encountered, and it wears better than any other book. I never tire of it, and it lifts and inspires me with every reading. The near-perfect blend of poetry and truth is, in my view, simply unequaled. Coming to know that book was one of the most important and valuable things I have ever done, and it changed me forever. I made a decision one day to read the Book of Mormon in earnest, almost non-stop, from cover to cover, investing the same concentrated energy that I would invest in a complex and masterful literary text.

When I did that, the Spirit made a decisive entrance into my study of the book, and into my life, And the unprecedented spiritual lift and understanding that came to me through that experience has stayed with me ever since. I love the book with all my heart and soul, and I continue to read and study it with wonder and thanksgiving. In a word, my heart was changed. I experienced a precious and priceless spiritual rebirth that to this day enriches my life in indescribable ways.

I testify with every ounce of my being that the Book of Mormon is true, every word of it. I testify that the Lord would not have preserved this record if it were not true, nor would He have given it to one who was not His chosen vessel, to bring it forth in a later day for the re-establishment of His Church on earth. The two are inseparable: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon.

Leonard J. Arrington:

Whether one is a Roman Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, or Mormon, there are many challenges in writing religious history. On the one hand the historian must convey the facts of history in an honest and straightforward manner. The historian must strive against the conscious or unconscious distortion of events to fit the demands of current fashions; he or she must renounce wishful thinking. On the other hand, many religious historians wish also to bear testimony of the reality of spiritual experience. . . .

“Speaking for myself and, I think, for most of the historians who have worked with me, some tension between our professional training and our religious commitments seems inevitable. Our testimonies tell us that the Lord is in this work, and for this we see abundant supporting evidence. But our historical training warns us that the accurate perception of spiritual phenomena is elusive—not subject to unquestionable verification. We are tempted to wonder if our religious beliefs are intruding beyond their proper limits. Our faith tells us that there is moral meaning and spiritual significance in historical events. But we cannot be completely confident that any particular judgment or meaning or significance is unambiguously clear. If God’s will cannot be wholly divorced from the actual course of history, neither can it be positively identified with it. Although we see evidence that God’s love and power have frequently broken in upon the ordinary course of human affairs, our caution in declaring this is reinforced by our justifiable disapproval of chroniclers who take the easy way out and use divine miracles as a short-circuit of a causal explanation that is obviously, or at least defensibly, naturalistic. We must not use history as a storehouse from which deceptively simple moral lessons may be drawn at random. . . .

“I firmly believe that a person may be a converted Latter-day Saint and a competent and honest historian of the religion. That others support us in this calling, even while criticizing some products of our labors, is suggested by the remark of [eleventh president of the Church] Harold B. Lee to me before his sudden death [in 1973]. ‘Our history is our history, Brother Arrington, and we don’t need to tamper with it or be ashamed of it.’ Paraphrasing a remark of Pope John XXIII, [the late member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] Bruce McConkie said to our executives: ‘The best defense of the church is the true and impartial account of our history.’

“I have tried in this memoir to bear witness to the loyalty of my colleagues and associates to the Latter-day Saint ideals of professional competence, sincere truth-seeking, and unquestioned integrity, trusthworthiness, and dedication. Our historical scholarship was accompanied by firm convictions of the truth of Mormonism. If we did not measure up, we can at least say that we sincerely tried.

“May Latter-day Saint historians lengthen their stride as they strive to develop capacities that will enable them to write histories worthy of the marvelous work and the wonder that is their heritage.”

[Adventures of a Church Historian (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 236-237.]

“My own impression is that an intensive study of church history, while it will dispel certain myths or half-myths sometimes perpetuated in Sunday school (and other) classes, builds faith rather than weakens it.”

[“The Search for Truth and Meaning in Mormon History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3/2 (Summer 1968): 61; reprinted in D. Michael Quinn, ed., New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 6.]

“My long interest in Mormon history (I’ve been working in it for 33 years) has only served to build my testimony of the gospel and I find the same thing happening to other Latter-day Saint historians as well.”

[“An Interview with Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton,” Sunstone 4 (July-August 1979): 41.]

“Having given my professional life to the serious study of Latter-day Saint history—having examined even the most intimate documents of the Church—I am even more persuaded today than previously that a knowledge of our past offers persuasive proof that our people have been engaged, all along, in the work of the Lord.”

[“Learning about Ourselves through Church History,” Ensign 9 (September 1979): 6.]

“[As Church Historian] I was able to examine over a period of several years the most intimate records of the Church—records that are replete with faith-promoting incidents that served to strengthen my belief in the divinity of the latter-day work. Particularly meaningful to me was my private knowledge of the divine circumstances that led up to the announcement by the First Presidency that the priesthood might be conferred on all worthy males without regard to race or color. Although now released from the position of Church Historian, I am still devoted to carrying out responsibilities which I trust continue to help build the Kingdom of God on earth. Many satisfying spiritual experiences, as well as my continued study of the Saints and their leaders throughout our history, have intellectually and emotionally validated my decision to serve the faith that I committed myself to many years ago, and that I believe to be based on true principles.”

[“Why I Am a Believer,” in A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars, ed. Philip L. Barlow (Centerville, UT: Canon Press, 1986), 233.]

Alan C. Ashton:

I am one of the co-founders of WordPerfect Corporation and am indebted to the gospel of Jesus Christ for the happiness and joy in my life. My parents were both members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and my mother’s father, David O. McKay, was the prophet and president of the Church.

Even with that close connection to the leader of the Church my testimony did not come from him, nor did it come from my parents. They were certainly influential in my attending Church meetings in my youth, but my conviction of the truth came from my individual study and obedience to the gospel principles. In middle school and high school I became interested in the stories and teachings in the scriptures which included the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church these are called the standard works. I enjoyed my Sunday School classes and Seminary classes. I loved the teaching of my 9th grade seminary teacher so much that during the summer when school was out I rode my bike three miles to his home early in the morning three times a week to hear him teach and explain the New Testament parables of Jesus.

As I was finishing high school I joined the 23rd Army Band in the Utah National Guard where I played the trumpet. I went to Fort Ord near Monterey, California, for my six months of army training. I had decided to serve a mission for the Church so I determined to read all of the standard works during my spare time during this training.

The first two months were basic training and I read the Book of Mormon during the hourly ten-minute smoking breaks. I had a pocket-sized copy of the Book of Mormon that I had with me as we had classes and as we marched from place to place.

I began to appreciate in a new way the writings of the prophets and teachings of the Savior, Jesus Christ, as they were recorded in the Book of Mormon. In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon the prophet Moroni gave this promise: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (see Moroni 10:3-5)

I had received the words of the Book of Mormon by reading and pondering them, and I desired to obtain this witness by the power of the Holy Ghost that the words in Book of Mormon were true and from God.

One night shortly after I had finished reading the Book of Mormon I climbed down from my top bunk and went alone into a large classroom in an adjacent room and knelt down on the hard, cold tile floor in the far corner of the room and offered a sincere prayer to my Heavenly Father in the Name of Jesus Christ asking if the Book of Mormon was true. I received a wonderful, powerful, warm, tingling sensation which enveloped me from head to foot. I rejoiced at receiving this confirmation of the Holy Ghost.

I have received similar feelings throughout my life in times when I have sought and needed spiritual inspiration, but this first occasion was most pronounced. I have learned to recognize these promptings of the Holy Spirit and found that I could not make them happen at will, but that they come from a source outside of me, bearing witness to truth.

These experiences are sacred to me and I am grateful to a loving Father in Heaven who because of His Son Jesus Christ has sent me guidance in crucial times in my life.

I have felt and received guidance as I served a two and a half year mission for the Church in Germany, as I became a husband and father, as I was deciding what to do for my Ph.D. dissertation, as I was making the decision to start a word processing product which became WordPerfect, and as I have served in a variety of callings in the Church including multiple times an Elders Quorum president, a gospel teacher, a member of a bishopric, a stake president, a mission president, and now currently a bishop.

My testimony and knowledge of the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown stronger as I have experienced growth and joy in my life. I have seen the power of the gospel in the life of my wife whom I love with all my heart and to whom I am eternally married, and in the lives of our eleven children and their families. I see the positive results and goodness in the lives of faithful covenant members of the Church as they serve one another and as they strive to keep the commandments of God.

I have treasured warm associations with people of other faiths and have enjoyed learning from them and sharing with them what I hold dear. I love the scriptures, and I read and learn from them every day.

I have come to know through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ and that He is the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. I know that I along with all mankind will be lifted up to stand before Him to be judged of our works because He was lifted up by men upon the cross. I know that salvation comes in and through Jesus Christ and that all will be resurrected because of Him. I know that the true gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth in these latter days through the prophet Joseph Smith. I know that we are all children of God and that He invites us to come unto Him with full purpose of heart.

Daniel A. Austin:

I grew up in the Chicago area and joined the Church in my teens. I have had many blessings in my life, and through the gift of agency, have made good decisions and bad decisions. I am grateful for, and have a profound belief in, the gift of the Atonement that allows us to see our life in a spiritual perspective and offers us the opportunity for repentance to become more like Jesus Christ. We are assured that in this life, none of us will really be much like Him, but because of His grace, he loves and accepts us anyway. And, as we ask Christ daily to forgive and reconcile with us, we learn how important it is that we forgive and reconcile with others. This is the essence of the Christian message I have found as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One of the things I have experienced in particular is the reality of the gifts of the spirit. By this I mean that God is always near to us and knows of our situation. He is willing to bless, inspire and guide us as we diligently seek Him and endeavor to obey His will. I have had many experiences with the Holy Ghost in my life in the form of promptings and impressions that have led me to make decisions or to act or proceed in ways that I otherwise would not have. In looking at the situation later, I have seen that, because of the direction that came to me, situations have turned out much better for my good, and for the welfare of my family, than they would have otherwise in absence of the promptings. I believe that God does hear and answer our prayers, and I have felt this many times in my life.

I also have a testimony of the power of the resurrection, and that when we die, our spirits will go to a place of repose and learning, and that we will be reunited with those we have known and loved here in this life. Our death in this life is by no means the end of our existence. The life of God’s children is eternal, and our purpose in this life is to prepare, as best we can, for eternal life. Christ, as our eternal judge, knows us better than we know ourselves, and will judge us with infinite love and mercy.

Frederick W. Axelgard:

My view of the world and the gospel has been deeply affected by my upbringing. My family traveled constantly during my early years; I attended schools in Taipei, Tehran, and Athens before returning to the U.S. for junior high and high school. The impact of those years is distilled in my memory of a chance meeting I had with a ten-year old Palestinian boy, outside our hotel in East Jerusalem (as it was called in 1963). I don’t remember exchanging a word, but I do remember looking into his eyes and recognizing he had a different existence than I did. Ever since then, I have had to square my existence and my beliefs with the fact that the world is wide and varied; that the happiness and well-being (here and hereafter) of every other person who has, or does, or will live on it means as much to my Heavenly Father as my own.

Returning to Carbon County, Utah, as a seventh grader, I had little in common with those around me. I took refuge in sports and studies as I had done when we moved between places overseas. But I began to get in touch with the Mormon roots of my mother’s family. It wasn’t until we moved to California that I first heard the story of Joseph Smith’s vision, sitting in a Sunday School class. Some time later I learned about the Book of Mormon, which would become the key to my spiritual life and the way to stay true to my own vision of a young Palestinian and the world he represented.

I love the Book of Mormon for many reasons. I have felt its power affect the life of my family on a day-to-day basis. It speaks in clear, strong ways about the doctrine of Christ. But what I would emphasize here is how deeply moved I am by the very idea that such a book exists: that another scripture, from a different time and place, testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. The Book of Mormon teaches as well that other books of scripture will yet come forth. This is a simple, powerful idea: that God is mindful of all peoples, in all times and places. It reaches out and fills the horizon. It brings unity and purpose to life as I know it and feel it. The Book of Mormon means that I can believe in and testify of an all-embracing Father in Heaven, who has always known and loved my young Palestinian friend as well as He has known and loved me, and that every person who has ever lived holds a place in His plan of salvation.

Stephen J. Bahr:

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

One of my goals is to study things carefully and find the truth. Many times what is perceived as true is influenced more by popular opinion rather than by factual information. To illustrate, many years ago people believed that the earth was flat. Their belief did not alter the truth about the shape of the earth but hindered progress. Another example is when I was growing up in North Dakota. Smoking cigarettes was common and many believed that smoking was not harmful. Their lack of knowledge did not alter the deadly consequences faced by those who smoked.

It takes much effort, observation, time, and study to learn the truth. Ignorance limits our ability to make good decisions and to be truly free, whether studying criminology, marriage, or spiritual principles. However ugly or painful the truth may be, we will only be free as we learn and apply the truth.

I am a sociologist who studies crime, drug use, and family relationships. My goal is to understand human behavior as it actually exists—why people become involved in drug use and crime, how it impacts their lives, and how some people desist from crime while others do not. Throughout the years I have spent much time thinking about and studying human behavior. I have interviewed many prisoners to understand better their perspectives and situations. It has been sobering to see the consequences of crime and drug abuse for individuals and families. I have also studied behavioral change—how some people learn to desist from criminal behavior and drug use while others do not. Recent research indicates the importance of support from others and of hope and spirituality in learning to desist from drug use and crime.

I ache as I think of the difficult and wretched situations some people experience such as theft, hunger, assault, rape, and the death of a loved one. In spite of the pain and suffering in the world, I know there is hope. I think of a story I heard about a boy who was walking along the seashore and saw hundreds of starfish that had been left on the beach as the tide receded. Any starfish that was not able to get back into the ocean would dry up and die. The boy was walking along the beach picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. A man came walking along the beach and watched the boy throwing the starfish back into the ocean. Seeing the vast number of starfish and the small number that the boy would be able to save, he told the boy that the task was hopeless and that he might as well give up. The boy picked up another starfish, threw it into the ocean, and said, “It is not hopeless for that one.”

Because of agency, many face difficult situations and some are the victims of horrible crimes. Someday all who commit crimes against others will stand accountable before God, while God and Christ will comfort and heal the innocent victims.

There are things we all can do to help alleviate the suffering around us. I think of a poem I read long ago:

I am only one
but I am one.
I can’t do everything
but I can do something.

Through my own experience, I have discovered that the principles of Jesus Christ are true and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s church. It was organized to support us, to help us learn correct principles, and to enable us to become free, competent, and happy. Much hurt, pain, and evil exists because people do not live the principles given by Jesus Christ.

I know that achieving peace and happiness in this world will require people to live the principles espoused by Jesus Christ. As we live His principles, we can learn how to face and learn much from our trials. His commandments do not limit us but help us become free. God has given us a living prophet to provide guidance, advice, hope, and inspiration. We have our agency to accept or reject His counsel but we must accept the consequences of our choices.

I have had a personal witness from God that these principles are true. My spiritual experiences are as real as anything I have experienced in my life. My studies of sociology have confirmed my belief in our Savior, Jesus Christ. As I have learned to live these principles, I have gained increased freedom.

I believe that God loves every person on this earth and that He will answer the prayers of every person who sincerely seeks Him. It may take years, the answers may come in ways that are unexpected, and the answers may not be what one expects or desires, but I testify that God does answer prayers.

When Christ visited the Americas, he said: “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens and ye would not” (3 Nephi 10:5). Christ gives us our agency and will force no one to come to Him. However, His arms are open and, if we truly seek Him, He will help us.

David H. Bailey:

As anyone who knows me will attest, I have feet planted firmly in both the scientific and the religious realms. I am a well-known scientist, employed at a large research laboratory, yet I also have deep religious roots — five generations of Mormon ancestors, including the second convert to be baptized in Great Britain in the famous race to the River Ribble.

Thus it is with considerable sadness that I have witnessed the growing rift between the scientific and religious worlds. On one hand, here in the twenty-first century, serious writers with large followings (fortunately not Latter-day Saints, for the most part) assert that the earth and all its living organisms, or even the entire universe, were created out of nothing in their present form just a few thousand years ago, and the reason they appear old is that God created them with an “appearance of age” (i.e., God is a Great Deceiver). Other groups are more accepting of modern science, but still feel they must battle the teaching of science in public schools, because science is the “enemy.” Both groups accuse scientists of being minions of Satan and responsible for the decline of modern society.

On the other hand, a group of “new atheists,” including at least one biologist that I admire, have publicly ridiculed religious belief as antiquated and even harmful in this modern scientific age. These scholars have been roundly criticized, even by other scientists, as being uninformed about modern religion and destructive of the bridge between the two disciplines, but many in the public arena nonetheless see them as representative of modern scientific thought. If nothing else, their in-your-face style is a public relations nightmare for those trying to upgrade science education in public schools.

As I have researched this issue, I have been deeply struck by the fact that the vast majority of both scientists and theologians do not think this way. I note that roughly the same percentage of professional scientists affirm a religious faith today as did a hundred years ago, and numerous religious-minded scientists are leaders in their fields, in disciplines as diverse as biology, astronomy, physics, and mathematics. For example, one of the most prominent biologists (and coauthor of a popular textbook) is Roman Catholic. The most widely cited computer scientist today is Lutheran. One prominent physicist is Anglican. And some very accomplished scientists are LDS.

It is also remarkable that even scientists who do not profess conventional religious belief or affiliation have, in many cases, expressed deep reverence for the majesty of the universe and the elegant laws that govern it. Albert Einstein once described the “cosmic religious feeling” as the “strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.” Astronomer Carl Sagan wrote that “A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

LDS scientists have done very well in scientific research, especially given the fact that few had access to graduate education until after World War II. In a 1974 study, for instance, Utah led all other states in the percentage of B.S. graduates who went on to receive doctorates in fields of science. Even today, BYU ranks tenth nationwide in the number of graduates who go on to graduate school in scientific or other fields (according to a 2006 ranking).

It is not too hard to see why so many Latter-day Saints have done well in science: Mormonism, from its foundation, has taught that God acts within the realm of natural law, thus eliminating any need for a “war” between science and religion. Brigham Young taught that “there is no such thing” as a miracle, and that “God is a scientific character, … he lives by science or strict law.” Apostle James E. Talmage, in his book The Articles of Faith, wrote that “Miracles are commonly regarded as occurrences in opposition to the laws of nature. Such a conception is plainly erroneous, for the laws of nature are inviolable.”

With this fundamentally naturalistic worldview, it is not surprising to see relatively progressive viewpoints on science expressed in LDS discourse. Brigham Young declared that it did not matter “whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years.” Apostle James E. Talmage, who received a doctorate in geology, described the “countless generations of plants and animals” in the history of the world, and added “What a fascinating story is inscribed upon the stony pages of the earth’s crust!” President David O. McKay mentioned that “evolution’s beautiful theory of the creation of the world” could be seen as evidence that mankind is destined for eternal life. President Hugh B. Brown urged us to “go out on the research front and continue to explore the vast unknown,” because “[r]evelation may come in the laboratory, out of the test tube, out of the thinking mind and the inquiring soul, out of search and research and prayer and inspiration.” More recently, President Gordon B. Hinckley declared: “But in a larger sense [the twentieth century] has been the best of all centuries. … The fruits of science have been manifest everywhere. … The miracles of modern medicine, of travel, of communication are almost beyond belief.” In summary, these LDS leaders have strongly affirmed the value of scientific progress, while at the same time avoiding firm doctrinal positions on questions that are better left to scientific research.

Similar affirmations of modern science (although generally not quite so dramatic as these) can be found in the teachings of numerous other major world religions. I am not aware of any major religious movement that teaches that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable. In other words, most of the “noise” we hear is coming from small groups outside the mainstream of modern religion.

Recently, I had an epiphany. I realized that if I didn’t want to live in an increasingly polarized world, I needed to speak out for harmony, not warfare, between science and religion. So I have to ask, “Why all the fighting?” Isn’t it remarkable how elegant the laws governing the universe are? And isn’t it particularly remarkable that we humans can comprehend these laws? Why does the fact that we have been able to discover these laws detract from our sense of wonder? Indeed, both scientists and nonscientists can stand in awe at the majesty of the universe, which is now known to be much vaster, more intricate and more magnificent than ever before realized in human history.

Why isn’t that enough? It is for me.

LeGrand L. Baker:

Several years ago, while I was reading a commentary on 2 Kings, I felt a kind of empathy as I watched the author struggle to make sense out of some passages he could not understand. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had just one pristine document that dated back to the First Temple Period, and that we could trust it to teach us about the ancient Israelite religion?” I leaned back in my chair and responded to my own wish: “Yes, we do! First and Second Nephi, and even the entire Book of Mormon.” Not only does the book’s origin date to the time of Solomon’s Temple, but 1 Nephi is one of the most beautiful epic poems in the English language.

As years passed, I devoted my studies more and more to the Book of Mormon and to the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith who translated it.

Except for my father, the Prophet Joseph was the first man I ever loved. As a boy, even before I knew Joseph Smith’s history, I thrilled when I heard his name. As a teenager, I read everything I could find about him. As an adult, I have published two books about him. One, Joseph and Moroni, is a carefully documented look at the friendship that developed between those two remarkable persons. It tells how the angel taught the boy to be a prophet.

The other book, The Murder of the Mormon Prophet, is a history of the political events that swirled around the Prophet Joseph during the last years of his life. Although I never much enjoyed writing this book, I felt that out of my love for the Prophet I had to correct inaccuracies some historians were writing about him. I had heard Hugh Nibley say that when one writes, even though some might challenge one’s conclusions, the writing must be so well documented that none can challenge its scholarship. It took me thirty years to research and write the book. As is Joseph and Moroni, The Murder of the Mormon Prophet is a declaration of my testimony of the divinity of the Prophet’s call.

The more I studied the Book of Mormon, the more I realized that it is an ancient Israelite temple text. That is, every sermon in the book is founded upon the Nephite temple experience and on the Psalms that were much of the ceremonial foundation of Nephite theology. The focal point of their most important annual ceremony was Psalm 2, where the king testifies, “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.” That Psalm was sung as part of the ancient coronation ceremony, when the earthly king was adopted as son and heir of Jehovah and was anointed priest and king. In conjunction with the king’s anointing, every man in the congregation was symbolically adopted as a child of God and anointed as a sacral king and priest. As such, each was symbolically invited to come into the Holy of Holies where God was. The message of that Psalm runs like a golden thread through the entire Book of Mormon. King Benjamin’s sermon focuses on how to become a child of God. Abinadi’s teachings to Alma are also about what one must do to become a child of God. The high point of the Savior’s beatitudes is, “And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called [named] the children of God.” The conclusion of Moroni 7 is: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.”

The context and power of that message is the subject of my third book, coauthored with my dear friend Stephen D. Ricks. It is called, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel’s Temple Worship in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon. That book is our testimony that the Book of Mormon does in fact contain the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is my sure testimony that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets and is therefore the word of God, that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.” (Getting nearer to God is also how one describes the purpose of the ancient temple.) Most important of all, I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God. I have tasted of his love and know it to be the most precious of all things.

Terry B. Ball:

The Reverend John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge professor of physics and a truly world-class scientist, once expressed a dilemma experienced by many scientists who are also persons of faith with the following observation:

There is a popular caricature which sees the scientist as ever open to the correcting power of new discovery and, in consequence, achieving the reward of real knowledge, whilst the religious believer condemns himself to intellectual imprisonment within the limits of an opinion held on a priori grounds, to which he will cling whatever facts there might be to the contrary. The one is the man of reason; the other blocks the road of honest inquiry with a barrier labeled “incontestable revelation”…. If that were really so, those of us who are both scientists and religious believers… would be living schizophrenically, believing the impossible on Sundays and only opening our minds again on Monday mornings.1

In recent times, religious scientists have not only had to so defend their faith in God and revelation, but also frequently find their commitment to scientific principles unjustly questioned. A Georgia judge, arguing against the teaching of evolution in school, offered an over-zealous polemic that illustrates the point well. Making absurd accusations about the effect of Darwin’s theories on society, the judge claimed that the “monkey mythology of Darwin is the cause of permissiveness, promiscuity, pills, prophylactics, perversions, pregnancies, abortions, pornotherapy, pollution, poisoning, and proliferation of crimes of all types.”2 Such pejorative and irrational rhetoric only serves to fan the flames of hostility between science and religion while deepening the dilemma for men and women devoted to both disciplines.

Many members of the Church, past and present, though, illustrate the fact that one can indeed harmonize secular scientific learning and spiritual development. Some, for example, though trained as scientists, have provided great ecclesiastical leadership to the Church, like the apostles John A. Widtsoe, a chemist and agronomist; James E. Talmage, a geologist; Joseph F. Merrill, a chemical engineer; Russell M. Nelson, a physician; and Richard G. Scott, a nuclear engineer.3 Others, while maintaining faith in the restored gospel, have made significant contributions to their scientific fields, like the physicist Philo T. Farnsworth, whose research led to the development of television; the chemist Henry Eyring, who developed the Absolute Rate Theory (or Transition State Theory) of chemical reactions; and the physicist Harvey Fletcher, who pioneered the development of stereophonic sound reproduction.4 As Elder Widtsoe taught, “The Church supports and welcomes the growth of science…. The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth nor to scientific search for truth.”5

One area of persistent tension between science and religion is that of the relationship between faith and the scientific method. Among practicing scientists there is a wide variety of opinions on the nature of that relationship. A review of the basic philosophies of the two most opposing schools of thought on the issue is helpful in understanding the controversy. For the sake of convenience I will refer to one extreme as scientific atheism, and to the other as scientific theism.

Scientific Atheism

Although the term scientific atheism is usually associated with the Marxist-Leninist world outlook, the term can appropriately be used to describe the extreme position of those scientists who insist that there is, and can be, no relationship between faith and the scientific method.6 Three basic propositions seem to lead them to this conclusion. First, they tend to believe that the scientific method is a supremely efficient and reliable tool for discovering truth. As one author describes it, they wish to view the scientific method as a “methodological threshing machine in which the flail of experiment separates the grain of truth from the chaff of error.”7

This confidence in the efficiency and reliability of the scientific method naturally leads them to a second proposition, which is that the scientific method in and by itself can answer any kinds of questions. As the nuclear chemist Jan Rydberg professed, “Science has no limits. There are no questions it should not approach.”8

With the assurance that the scientific method can efficiently answer all kinds of questions, scientific atheists arrive at a third proposition, which is that there is no need for faith or religion on the part of one skilled at using the scientific method in the pursuit of truth. This proposition was well illustrated by Pierre-Simon Laplace (d. 1827) when, as tradition has it, in response to Napoleon’s observation that he had failed to mention God in his book on the origin of the universe, he said, “Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis.”9

Not only do scientific atheists claim no need for faith, they also declare that any conclusions based on faith are categorically unscientific. As Leonid Brezhnev (d. 1982) proclaimed to the Soviet Central Committee, “True science takes nothing on faith.”10 This philosophy leads it adherents to reject any superhuman source of enlightenment and to disallow any data that cannot be perceived and described by the temporal senses. The final conclusion drawn by those who accept these propositions was well illustrated by the German physicist Wilhelm Westphal when he lamented:

If there is a God, then I am very sorry to say that he has never revealed himself to me. He could have done this, in fact he should have. But he didn’t. Therefore I became an atheist.11

Jan Rydberg confessed that he had arrived at the same conclusion when he declared “I do not need a God,” and “I have no use for religion.”12

Scientific Theism

In contrast to the faithless philosophies of the scientific atheists, those who support the tenets of the school of thought I call scientific theism feel that a practitioner of the scientific method need not abandon faith. Although they are willing to agree that the scientific method is an efficient and reliable research tool, they do not believe that it is supremely or unquestionably so. In recognizing that the scientific method does not always yield unchallengeable truth, the chemist John Friedrich offers this disclaimer:

Scientists are quite often misquoted in the area of certainty. I don’t believe anything is absolutely certain. Things are more or less certain depending upon the data which we have to support a given conclusion. If there is a sufficient amount of data supporting some conclusion, and no contradictory data, then we say with a certain degree of certainty that it is a true reliable conclusion.13

Dr. Bernard Waldman carried the thought further when he suggested that there are some scientists who, not realizing the limits of the scientific method, are “brash and very sure of what they are doing and how they have solved all the problems.” But, he continued, in his discipline of physics, “the people who make the major contributions and the major breakthroughs are remarkably humble.”14 In recognizing the limits of the scientific method, scientific theists are also willing to admit that there are some questions that it simply cannot address. While serving as the dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Willis Worcester asserted that these questions often deal with issues of faith, saying that

There are people who feel that everything can be explained on a purely scientific basis, but all of them eventually run into unanswerable questions, questions of their own origin, of the earth’s origin, of their ultimate fate, which simply cannot be answered on the basis of any currently known scientific method.15

Some proponents of scientific theism are willing to suggest not only that one can utilize the scientific method without abandoning faith, but that, in reality, a kind of faith can play an important role in the scientific method itself. A former dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Robert Alberty, expressed the principle this way:

Faith is not too different from a part of the regular life of the scientist. If he didn’t have faith that experiments can be reproduced and that the human mind is competent to learn more and that somehow things can be rationalized, he wouldn’t go into the lab. All these acts of faith are necessary to the scientist. Maybe he doesn’t look at it as faith, but it really is. This doesn’t necessarily make him accept things easily, but it’s wrong to think that he operates by some kind of cold calculating logic. Good scientists are highly intuitive and don’t follow rigid logic. They have a great feel for things, as opposed to a detailed mastery. We present it to our students as if it were all coldly factual, but that’s not the way the frontier of science is.16

What Alberty would call intuition, others have called inspiration. The Norwegian physicist Ole Gjotterud said, “I feel that science is the process of asking questions and trying to answer them critically, but also with inspiration.”17 This inspiration is a source of enlightenment that would be discounted by many scientific atheists because it can neither be quantified nor described in terms of the physical senses.

The willingness of scientific theists to recognize that faith and inspiration can play a role in the pursuit of truth facilitates their belief in the divine. Many confess that the further they progress in their scientific investigations, the greater their faith in, and conviction of, a supreme being. Alberty said that it is this very phenomenon that “keeps God alive for scientists.”18 Atomic physicist Dr. Jules Duchesne agrees, as he concludes that “The scientist’s universe has become so large, so wonderful, so unexpected, he almost needs a God.”19 Perhaps the best response to the arguments of the scientific atheist was offered by the Nobel Prize winning German physicist Max Born (d. 1970) when he simply declared, “Those who say that the study of science makes a man an atheist must be rather silly people.”20

In my own experience as both a teacher of religion and a researcher in a scientific field, three principles have been especially beneficial in helping me recognize a harmonious relationship between faith and the scientific method:

Principle One: Faith enhances the truths learned through the scientific method.

Henry Eyring introduced this principle well when he wrote:

The scientific method which has served so brilliantly in unravelling the mysteries of this world must be supplemented by something else if we are to enjoy to the fullest the blessings that have come of the knowledge gained. It is the great mission and opportunity of religion to teach men “the way, the truth, the life,” that they might utilize the discoveries of the laboratory to their blessing and not to their destruction.21

Eyring’s teachings suggest that when the discoveries of the scientific method become working partners with faith each enhances the other to the blessing of mankind.

Principle Two: Faith has an application in the scientific method as well as in religion.

While teaching the Zoramites, the Book of Mormon prophet Alma declared that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). In other words, Alma taught that one can have real faith neither in something that is directly visible nor in something that is not true. This observation leads to the question: How then does one know if something not seen is true? An answer can be found in the definition of faith attributed to Paul in the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Paul’s definition suggests that one can have hope for and faith in a thing not seen, by examining the evidence of its existence. For example, though one has not seen God, the witness of the Holy Ghost can provide sufficient spiritual evidence necessary to develop faith in His existence. Moreover, many have testified that temporal evidence for the existence of God can be found in the complexity and wonders of his creations.

This principle of faith, that through observation of evidences one can have confidence in the existence of something not directly seen, has found similar application in science. For example no scientist has ever seen electrons, yet the evidence of their travel through a bubble chamber testifies of their existence.22 In similar fashion, long before the planet Neptune was ever viewed in a telescope, Adams and Leverrier were able to predict its existence by the evidence of its gravitational influence on the planet Uranus.23 By Paul’s definition both Adams and Leverrier exercised a principle of faith in their scientific investigations. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Principle Three: The scientific method and the paradigm for developing faith are remarkably similar.

The scientific method is often outlined in four steps. First, the scientist forms a hypothesis. Second, he conducts an experiment to test the hypothesis. Third, he evaluates the data from the experiment, and, fourth, he draws a conclusion.

In the paradigm for developing faith as outlined in the thirty-second chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon, some cognates to this four-step process are evident. Alma introduces the process of developing faith with these words:

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you (Alma 32:27).

Alma seems to be suggesting that the first step is to arouse one’s faculties to a desire to believe. For example, in order to obtain faith in the truthfulness of Alma’s teachings one would begin by observing, “I desire to believe the teachings of Alma.” This can be compared with the scientist’s hypothesis statement (i.e., the scientist would say, “I hypothesize that the teachings of Alma are true”).

After so hypothesizing or arousing ones faculties, Alma indicates that the next step, just as in the scientific method, is to perform an experiment upon his words. He explains how to conduct the experiment and evaluate the data:

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart (Alma 32:28).

Thus, Alma has instructed that the experiment be conducted by metaphorically planting the seed of his teachings in one’s heart. This can be interpreted as meaning that one is to apply the teachings of Alma in one’s personal life.

The third step of the scientific method, the analysis of data, is paralleled in this chapter by Alma’s teachings that:

behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts (Alma 32:28).

Thus, as one evaluates the data, one recognizes that some kind of growth—a good kind of growth—has taken place!

The final step of the scientific method, that of drawing a conclusion, finds a cognate in Alma’s paradigm for developing faith, when Alma teaches that, after analyzing the data of the experiment upon his words, one will come to the realization that:

It must needs be that this is a good seed or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. (Alma 32:28)

This enlarging and enlightening can be considered the “spiritual” data produced by the experiment.

It should be noted that this kind of spiritual evidence is very different from the temporal data acceptable to the scientific method. Unlike temporal data, spiritual information cannot be quantified or easily described in terms of our physical senses, but, rather, its observation requires the development of spiritual faculties. As a result, it may never be observed by one who has not learned how to use spiritual senses, or who limits his tools for the pursuit of truth to the scientific method. Moreover, spiritual information may manifest itself in different ways to different individuals. Thus, for those following Alma’s procedure for developing faith, the spiritual data generated may not be felt or recognized by each “experimenter” in exactly the same way. This admission does not, however, diminish the reality or reliability of the data for those who have observed it. Herein may be the greatest source of frustration for scientific atheists. Because they cannot accept or recognize data in the form of spiritual witnesses and evidences, they are handicapped in their ability to learn religious truth, and often deny its existence. As Paul explained to the Corinthians:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Biologist Hanjochem Autrum expressed a similar concept when he suggested that “Science cannot find God, but the scientist can.”24

In the remainder of this discussion on faith, Alma takes the scientific method one step further and, in so doing, illustrates what every good scientist should do with a newly discovered truth. He instructs that it should be nourished and cared for so that, “then my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence” (Alma 32:43). In other words, returning to the instructions of Henry Eyring, that “they might utilize the discoveries of the laboratory to their blessing.”25

The scientific method demands that the data gathered and the conclusions drawn from an experiment be reproducible by anyone who follows the procedures of the original experimenter. As Latter-Day Saints we believe that the experiment by which one can gain faith as outlined by Alma does indeed meet this criterion. And this in part helps explain the success of the great missionary program of the church. In a sense, our missionaries challenge investigators to be “scientific” by trying this experiment upon the word, with the promise that if they follow the procedures and carefully analyze the results, they too will come to the conclusion that God lives and that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

With the understanding of the above principles, that faith can enhance and supplement the scientific method, that the principles of faith can have application in the scientific method as well as in religion, and that the process for developing faith can be similar to the scientific method, we can be confident that one need not abandon faith to be a scientist, and conversely, that a testimony of the gospel does not mandate the forsaking of science.

These principles have served me well as both a research scientist and religious educator at Brigham Young University. Over and over, my faith has informed my science, and my science has informed my faith.

———-
Notes:
1 J. C. Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality: The Relationship Between Science and Theology (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991), 49.
2 E. Geissler and H. Hörz, “Darwin Today—Introductory Lecture,” in Darwin Today: The Eighth Kuhlungsborn Colloquium on Philosophy and Ethical Problems of Bioscience (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1983), 19.
3 Robert L. Miller, “Science and Scientists,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1272-1274.
4 Ibid.
5 John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1943), 1:129.
6 Vladimir Zots, “Atheism and the Spiritual Culture of Socialism,” in Religion in the USSR: The Truth and Falsehood (Moscow: Editorial Board, 1986), 31.
7 Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality, 49.
8 Cited in Frederick E. Trinklein, The God of Science (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 21.
9 Cited in Henry Eyring, The Faith of a Scientist (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 57.
10 Cited in Stephen Fortescue, The Communist Party and Soviet Science (London: Macmillan, 1986), 22.
11 Cited in Trinklein, The God of Science, 68.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid., 4.
14 Ibid., 15.
15 Ibid., 30.
16 Ibid., 19-20.
17 Ibid., 2.
18 Ibid., 61.
19 Ibid., 64.
20 Ibid.
21 Eyring, The Faith of a Scientist, 37.
22 Cyril Henderson, Cloud and Bubble Chambers (London: Methuen, 1970), 1-5.
23 Morton Grosser, The Discovery of Neptune (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), 99-101.
24 Cited in Trinklein, The God of Science, 67.
25 Eyring, The Faith of a Scientist, 37.

Michael Ballam:

My testimony of the Book of Mormon came to me as a borrowed gift from my great-grandfather, Marius Falslev, who converted to Mormonism in Randers, Denmark, and gave up everything to emigrate to be with the Saints in the new “Zion.” He was not an easy target for the missionaries, buffeting them a number of times and refusing their “Good News.” Once he “caught the Spirit” his testimony was rock solid. As a child he told me that until I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, I should borrow his. “Lean on my testimony,” he said, “until you have one strong enough to stand on your own.” I did just that.

During my elementary school years, I read Deta Petersen Neeley’s books based on the Book of Mormon, and the characters and history began to speak to my heart, a child’s innocent heart. Upon reaching junior high school I began in earnest to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety. I remember well the day that I finished and felt the seeds of a testimony begin to grow that it was indeed “the word of God.” Following Moroni’s admonition, I did seek confirmation of the Spirit, that it was divine writ. My testimony was one of simple faith. I had such deep respect and love for my grandparents, parents, teachers . . . all of whom bore witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. That was sufficient for me.

During my collegiate days, I continued my study of the Book of Mormon and began to teach its concepts to children in my Primary and Sunday School classes. That had a deepening effect on me, enabling me to understand the core of the work, not just the characters and scenes. I began to receive a personal association with the principles discussed by the ancient prophets. My most significant mentor, who was not a member of the church but who had studied comparative religions, saw the Book of Mormon as nothing more than a literary contrivance of the nineteenth century. I tried to convince him logically, through scientific evidence and literary content, why I believed as I did. I had no influence with him. I don’t believe he wanted the Spirit to bear witness to him because it would require some alterations within his life. Our last conversation regarding the Book of Mormon ended on his saying, “When you go away to graduate school and become more educated, you will be able to see the fallacies of your belief in the Book of Mormon.”

Quite the contrary has been the case! In the process of acquiring a PhD and venturing into the world of scholarly pursuit, the more I studied the book, the more “evidence” I found of its truthfulness. In 1994 my family and I moved to Jerusalem, Israel, to spend a sabbatical year. Little did I know that our experience living there would unlock a multitude of insights into the Book of Mormon. I had assumed that we would be enlightened regarding the Old and New Testaments, but the reality was that it did more to secure my knowledge of the accuracy and astonishing clarity of the Book of Mormon.

From the moment we moved into our apartment on Ha Nachal street near Hebrew University, clarity came to my mind with regard to a concern I had harbored from my adolescence concerning the first pages of I Nephi. The term “river of water” is found a number of times within the early part of the document. I remember thinking that it was redundant (all rivers have water, I thought, that is why they are called rivers!), or perhaps Joseph had used the phrase to sound as if it were from the “Old World.” It was not until the name of our street was translated that I understood why Nephi referred to a “river of water.” Ha Nachal means a river without water; nahar is the word for “river of water.” There are two kinds of rivers in ancient Israel (Jerusalem), one with and one without water. Joseph could not possibly have known that. He never lived in a region where there are “wadis,” or “rivers without water.” Only someone from such a region (ancient Judea?) could have been acquainted with such.

The allegory of the olive tree in Jacob is so accurate in terms of the husbandry of these remarkable and rare trees. Having lived in Israel and Italy, where the care of olive trees is very serious business, I have gleaned a great deal of information regarding the art and science of their care. It is so accurate that it could be used as a horticultural text. Neither Joseph nor any American easterner could possibly have had knowledge of this ancient art/science. Someone from the Old World would have to have written it.

In my study of Biblical Hebrew, I discovered continual “Hebrewisms” in the text of the Book of Mormon. Joseph was not afforded an education sufficient to have enabled him to do that. The more I have learned about the ancient world, the more absolute has become my knowledge that the Book of Mormon was written by an ancient remnant of the house of Israel.

A truly revelatory surprise came to me in studying “chasanot” (the ancient practice of cantillation [chanting] of the scriptures). It was my desire to be able to read the markings set down in the eighth century by rabbinical scholars in the area of Tiberias (Galilee) giving symbols to what Moses had done when he first chanted the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). There are few scholars left in the world who can decipher these markings. I was fortunate to work with Professor Ezri Uval at Hebrew University. Knowing how few experts there are on this ancient art, I asked him what unusual experiences he might have had in his years of study. He told me of a lecture he presented in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the university there. He was asked to enlighten the students as to the various practices used in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms.

He began with Genesis, chapter one, verse one. As he began to chant “Brseet bara Elohim” …בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים בְּרֵאשִׁית, a group of Navajo Indians began to become very animated. During the first break, they approached him, asking from whence the tune came to which he chanted the story of the “creation.” He pointed out that the markings were there in the Hebrew Bible since the eighth century. He asked why they were asking. Their response perplexed him. They said: “Though the language is different in the way you delivered it, the tune is the same as the tune to which our forefathers have told the ‘creation’ story for generations.” “How is that possible?” Ezri asked me. “Is it possible that part of the lineage of Israel made it to the New World with the scriptures?” “Yes!” I responded, “but I cannot tell you how I know that because I have promised your government not to proselytize here in Israel.” He said “I only want an explanation. I don’t want to convert!” I said, “Ah, but if I give you an explanation, you will convert!” I told him that if he could come to the USA I could explain why I believe that the lineage of Israel did come to the New World, with the scriptures (Plates of Laban). I arranged for him to come to Utah State University and present a symposium on cantillation of the scriptures. I presented him with a Book of Mormon, which he devoured. It made perfect sense to him and it does to me. The aural transmission of music can go on through millennia. I have every reason to believe that Lehi and his family brought from the Temple/Synagogue the Books of Moses chanted and passed them on to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to the present day. Languages change (especially those that are not written). Music is so orderly and sticks in the brain with such accuracy, it can be passed on century after century and remain the same.

Bottom line: The more I have learned (in the learning of the world, language, history, music, art) the more convinced I am of the authenticity and accuracy of translation of the Book of Mormon. I suspect that trend will continue until it is time to meet with Lehi, Nephi, Alma, etc. in the next realm.

Kevin L. Barney:

I was born into a Mormon family and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Throughout my youth, my involvement in the Church was simply grounded in my parents’ commitment to it. As a teenager, I kind of got the idea that I knew pretty much all there was to know about the Church, due to the catechism-style of youth seminary and other Church lessons we were taught.

In 1977, I began to serve a two-year mission for the Church in Colorado (scarcely an exotic locale!). This was good for me, because I promptly found out that I didn’t know a blessed thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Knocking grapefruit-sized softball questions out of the park in youth Sunday School was one thing, but facing legitimate questions from skeptical non-LDS was something else entirely. I was shocked by how ill-prepared I was for that experience. To add to that, I first encountered antagonistic anti-Mormon literature in the form of a Walter Martin tape, which my very first investigator’s sister had sent her (she eventually was baptized, the tape notwithstanding).

One of the things that I quickly realized I had never done was to try Moroni’s promise from Moroni 10:3-5. No one had ever suggested to me that I should do such a thing; I don’t recall even encountering that scriptural passage as a child or teenager. I figured that if I were going to be asking people for the next two years to take that challenge, I needed to do it for myself first. So one of the first things I did as a young missionary was to read the Book of Mormon all the way through, reflect upon what I was reading, and then pray about it. I experienced a deep feeling of peace, which remains the ground for my testimony of the Book of Mormon to this very day.

But I had no interest in simply resting upon that laurel. I got tired of just saying “I don’t know” all the time, and so my desire to study and learn more about the Gospel became overpowering. In addition to studying the scriptures themselves, I discovered religious scholarship (initially in the person of Hugh Nibley), and began to plow into it. Before long I had a big trunk of books that I would lug around when I was transferred to a different area.

After my mission, when I returned to college, I began studying ancient languages. Although I ended up majoring in classics, a large part of the motivation for these studies was to provide myself with the tools necessary to study the scriptures in a serious way. Eventually I began to research and publish journal articles, mostly focused on subjects relating to ancient scripture.

As my knowledge of the Gospel has deepened, the nature of my faith has gained nuance. Mine is not the simple faith of a child; it is a complex faith, which acknowledges the human hand in Church history, doctrine, scripture, and practice. But I have never had fundamentalist tendencies; for me to acknowledge the human has never interfered with my ability to similarly perceive and acknowledge the hand of the divine.

My serious studies of scripture, religion in general, and Mormonism in particular have never provided an insuperable challenge to my faith. To the contrary, they have deeply enriched my testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, a testimony which I am happy to reiterate in this forum.

Ross Baron:

I was raised Jewish and, as such, participated in the religious traditions of Judaism. I attended Hebrew school, read the Old Testament, and took part in the holy days of the Jewish calendar. I enjoyed and felt comfortable in my culture and religious environment, but I had many questions that seemed to go unanswered. In my teenage years I studied Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Taoism. I learned a great deal and found much wisdom and insight in their teachings. I also learned and practiced Transcendental Meditation. However, I still harbored many questions about life and life after death that went unanswered.

As a senior in high school I decided, on my own, to read the New Testament. Each morning before school I would go to the library and read from the New Testament. I had a profound but troubling experience. When I finished the four gospels I was unable to explain the feelings I was having. I knew what I had read was true and that the testimony about Jesus was also true. It was troubling because it seemed so clear, precise, and in some ways very simple; but I knew that that knowledge would irrevocably change my life. People have asked me, over the years, if it was difficult for me to accept Jesus as the Christ given my Jewish upbringing. I respond that the testimony of the gospel writers concerning Jesus completely connected with my understanding of the Old Testament and its prophecies about the Messiah. In addition, the holy days of the Jewish calendar, specifically Passover, which I had done every year of my life, absolutely pointed to everything that Jesus was and did. I had obtained a certain peace after reading the New Testament, but some things were still not clear.

I studied some of the Christian sects and went to a few meetings but felt no desire to unite myself with them. There were very few LDS members in my high school, but one of my friends was and so before a class I asked, “What do Mormons believe?” In the next five or so minutes he taught me the plan of salvation; he had just answered every question that I had my entire life! I was so excited that I peppered him with questions, to which he said, “Hey, I don’t know all of that . . . but my dad does.” I went and spoke with his father that very day and received from him the Book of Mormon, Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage, and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder by LeGrand Richards. Over the course of about the two weeks I devoured those books and I started reading the Doctrine and Covenants.

The same experience, perhaps even more powerful, occurred during the reading of the Book of Mormon that had happened when I finished reading the New Testament. I knew that the Book of Mormon was true. However, I also knew that if I became a Latter-day Saint that would cause major problems in our all-Jewish family. So, I went to a Christian bookstore in the San Fernando Valley to purchase books on the Church to make sure that I was intellectually aware of all facets of the Church. At the time I had no idea that I would be buying anti-Mormon material; I just thought Mormonism was another branch of nominal Christianity.

I purchased three books and read them in a very short period of time. I had a yellow pad and made extensive notes from the writings of these books. I also followed the footnotes to ascertain if the quotes were accurate. The acidity, poor scholarship, and overt hate in these books surprised and shocked me; in some ways it reminded me of the trash that is written about Jews by anti-Semitic writers. Some of the questions from those books I was able to answer for myself and some of the questions I took to Latter-day Saints I had come to know. Ironically, my experience with those books deepened my convictions about the Church and my desire to joint it.

After I had taken the missionary discussions, the missionaries asked me to fast and to pray, which I did. I received the indelible and spirit-to-spirit communication from the Holy Ghost that Jesus was the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet just like Moses, and that His Church was upon the earth—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was subsequently baptized and, a year following my baptism, put in my papers so I could serve a full-time mission. I was called and served in the Argentina Buenos Aires South Mission.

After my return from the mission I married Kathleen Ann Bolton in the Los Angeles temple and we have seven children and, as of this writing, two grandchildren and another on the way.

I received a B.S. degree in finance from Brigham Young University, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in religion and social ethics from the University of Southern California. During my time at U.S.C., many Latter-day Saints would ask me if my studies in religion and philosophy were undermining my testimony, or shaking my faith. I would always answer that my studies in religion and philosophy were doing the opposite—they were strengthening and fortifying my testimony of Joseph Smith and the restoration; many days after intense classes I would walk back to my car with profound gratitude for the teachings of the Prophet Joseph and for the clarity and insight of the revealed doctrines!

Roger M. Barrus:

I was born a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the so-called Mormon Church), descended on both sides from ancestors who joined the church in its earliest days. All of which means, with respect to my own membership in the Church and adherence to its teachings, absolutely nothing. Every faithful member must obtain his own testimony, or witness, of the Church and its teachings.

The basis of my own testimony, as it is for the testimonies of many others, is the Book of Mormon. This book was published by Joseph Smith, the first prophet—I do not say “founder”—of the Mormon Church, when he was a young man of twenty-four years. He claimed that he did not write the book, but rather that he translated it, by the power of God, from golden plates that had been delivered to him by an angel. The angel, named Moroni, was in life a prophet in ancient America. His father, another prophet named Mormon, wrote most of the book as the history of his people, who were an offshoot of the house of Israel. The first ancestors fled from Jerusalem a few years before the city was destroyed and its inhabitants sent into exile by the Babylonians, in 587 BCE. Led by God, they made their way to a new Promised Land, in the Americas, where they settled. Soon, however, they divided into warring factions, with the Nephites generally observing the Mosaic Law and preserving its traditions, including the promise of a coming Messiah, and the Lamanites rejecting the old ways.

The high point of the Nephite history was the appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ, who taught the people the fullness of the Gospel and organized His church among them. There followed a long period of righteousness and peace among the Nephites, but eventually the people declined into wickedness and the society into factional conflict. When Mormon was a young boy, war broke out between the Nephites and the Lamanites, and it continued on and off with genocidal ferocity through the rest of his life. He was a political and military leader as well as a prophet, and he could see the final destruction of the Nephites coming, so he gathered together all the people’s records and labored to condense them into one book. He wrote the book on golden plates—gold does not corrode—because he intended to hide it in the ground until God in His own time should bring it forth, to remind the house of Israel of His covenants with them, and to convince all the peoples of the earth that Jesus is the Christ. Unfortunately, Mormon was killed in battle before he could finish his book, so his son Moroni was left to complete it and hide it away, sometime around 420 CE.

The Book of Mormon made Joseph Smith famous, or infamous, by giving material form to his claim to divine revelation. Without it, he would perhaps have been one of the many self-professed prophets who might gather a few followers, but who otherwise are generally ignored. With it, he could be—and indeed he was—vilified as a fraud or dismissed as a madman, but he could not be easily disregarded. The popular appellation for the Prophet and his followers, “Mormons,” clearly demonstrated what it was that stirred the interest, along with the suspicion, of outsiders. No sooner was the book published than newspaper articles about the “gold bible fraud” appeared, and these were followed by books and pamphlets attacking the Prophet as an impostor. For his part, he held that the book proved “that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old; Thereby showing that he is the same God, yesterday, today, and forever.”1

I recognize that everything about the Book of Mormon—both the story the book itself tells, and the story that Joseph Smith tells about how it came to be—can appear as strange and even outlandish. They do not fit the rationalist and materialist sensibility of modern man. Ironically, the book itself refers to this problem: Nephi, the first great prophet in it, says that when his writings shall appear, many will reject them saying, “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible,”2 while Moroni, the last prophet in it, says that his work will come forth at a time when people will “deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing.”3 Because it is so strange, the Book of Mormon has become one of those books that many people dismiss without ever reading it. They assume that it must have been written by Joseph Smith, or by someone else and then appropriated by him. At the same time, many of these same people will confidently affirm that the Bible is the word of God, even though it is no less full of stories about prophets and divine revelation, and little is known for certain about how and by whom it was originally compiled. Apparently it is easier to believe the words of ancient prophets than modern ones.

I have some sympathy for this reaction; to a degree, even though I grew up in the LDS Church, it was how I felt about the Book of Mormon when as a teenager I first thought seriously about what I really believed. I did not simply dismiss the book, however, but actually read it, in part, as I remember, to fulfill some kind of requirement for the Mormon religious life award in Scouting. At the same time, in Seminary—an early morning religious education program for high school students—I was studying the life of Joseph Smith, so I knew something about his education (or lack thereof) and early life experiences. I also had heard numerous times the counsel of Moroni—“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost”4—so I tried it out. At first nothing happened, but then one day, walking home after playing tennis, with my mind wandering, I received an extremely strong impression—so strong that I still remember it quite clearly—that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon, and it was exactly what he said it was, an ancient book of scripture that he had translated by divine power. At the time, I had not heard of theories that the Book of Mormon was written by someone else of Smith’s day, but on examination they are no more convincing than the theory that Smith himself, with his few months of formal education, wrote it: no one ever claimed to have actually written the book, and no original source has ever been found.

I have read the Book of Mormon a number of times since my first experience with it, and each time I have discovered new things that deepen my understanding and strengthen my testimony of it. I mention only one small example. The second or third time I read the book, I found the last part of it to be quite ragged, with a number of passages that seemed to bring the book to a close, only to be followed by more text.5 For some time this section of the book bothered me, until I realized that I was looking at it wrong. I was not reading it sufficiently literally, as the work of Mormon and Moroni. I needed to ask what was going on in their lives as they wrote this section. When I looked at it this way, the solution to the problem immediately appeared, and it made me feel personally close to the two ancient prophets. They were fighting in the great war against the Lamanites that would eventually lead to the destruction of the Nephite people. Every time they faced a battle, they had to assume the worst, that they would be killed, so they had to conclude their book and hide it. They could not leave it to be found by the Lamanites, who would undoubtedly destroy it. When they survived a battle, they could recover their book and continue writing, until the next battle loomed. If Joseph Smith had really written the Book of Mormon, the ragged ending would have been a subtly brilliant literary device, although to the best of my knowledge he never drew attention to it.

For me, the most important effect of the Book of Mormon has been to increase my understanding of, gratitude to, and love for the Savior, Jesus Christ. It includes, in the book of 3 Nephi, what deserves to be recognized as a fifth Gospel, different from but complementary to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. Like these, it tells the story of Jesus’ birth, teachings, passion, and resurrection, but it does so from the point of view of the Nephites in the Americas. In this way, it affirms even more powerfully than they the universality of the Savior’s mission. The Book of Mormon also contains what I consider to be the most moving explanation of the Savior’s atonement in all of Scripture. It comes in a sermon by the prophet Alma, who in his younger days was a rebel against the church, and had something of a Paul-on-the-road- to-Damascus conversion experience, so he knew first-hand the need for repentance and the atonement. As he explains it, the Savior would “go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled, which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance.”6

Calling the Book of Mormon “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion,” the Prophet Joseph Smith claimed that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”7 That has been my experience. There are many great books, and, life being short, no one can read them all. I would say, however, that it would behoove anyone to read, and seriously consider, this particular book.

Notes:
1 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. Brigham H. Roberts, 2nd ed., Rev., 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974) 1: 65. (Doctrine and Covenants 20: 11-12.)
2 2 Nephi 29: 3.
3 Moroni 9: 7.
4 Moroni 10: 4.
5 See 3 Nephi 29-30, Mormon 3: 17-22, 5: 8-24, 7: 1-10, 9: 31-36; Ether 4-5; 12: 6-41; Moroni 10: 2-34.
6 Alma 7: 11-13.
7 History of the Church, 4: 461.

Emily Bates:

I believe in a God who knows and loves me as He does everyone. I believe that His love for us is not dependent on our actions, our belief, or our situation in life. More than anything, I want to share that trait.

I believe that God is the source of goodness and doesn’t send bad things to the world—that the bad things and events come because of mortal life, our own bad decisions, and others’ bad decisions. I believe that, in general, the commandments lead to a good and happy life—that their purpose is to minimize the hardship and hurt in the world. I especially love the word of wisdom and see that as a great witness of God’s love and wisdom. I believe that God understands why we doubt, fear, and end up messing up a lot. I think it saddens Him because He knows we are sacrificing something good that we can’t see for some momentary fix. I have felt His love after I messed up and tried to come closer to Him again. I have felt redeemed and close to God after periods of neglecting that aspect of life. I believe strongly that family relationships and other deep relationships are necessary and important for us in this life. Learning to love and care for each other is one of the main points of life.

I believe in God because I have received answers to sincere prayers at key times in my life. My faith, like that of many kids, started as blind desire to be a good kid. I had a strong sense of spirituality and was the one in my family to ask for family daily scripture study and family prayer, even when I was a little girl. I felt security in the ritual of prayer and comfort in feeling that I was good and worthy because I did the check-list of things throughout high school, when many kids rebel. I believed that God would protect and keep bad things from my life because of my diligence and faith.

My faith was simple, but not mature. My real conversion occurred later, when my beliefs were called into question. When I had followed the protocol, bad things did happen. My senior year of high school, I suffered severe and frequent migraine attacks that robbed me of my vision, caused excruciating pain and uncontrolled vomiting. Sometimes the migraines would rob me of two or three days a week. The days between, I felt weak and fearful of another attack. I lost many of the successes on which I had based my self worth—my school, athletics, and violin performance.

First, I didn’t think it was fair that, even though I took good care of my body, I was sick all the time. And second, I didn’t think a just God would let that happen when I was praying with all my might for him to take the sickness away. Since God didn’t take away my illness after months of praying for only that, I concluded that either there was no God or He didn’t care about me. I felt alone. I stopped praying.

There were quite a few months of feeling miserable, both because of my health and because I was mad at everyone who was healthy. I was pretty much the opposite of what I wanted to be in every way at that point: not healthy, not kind, not fun, and certainly not believing or ready to sacrifice anything for God or anyone else.

At some point in the year, I was reading a novel by Olive Burns called Cold Sassy Tree. In it, a grandpa was explaining to his grandson his observations about God. He told him that often God doesn’t physically take away hard things, but if you pray for spiritual gifts to help you get through things, like patience, strength, or feeling God’s love, He comes through with those gifts. I remember underlining the words in the book and thinking about them.

The next time that a migraine struck me, again I hurt and I felt alone. I prayed asking only two questions to God—first—if He was there and if he loved me. I felt God’s love—like the emotional response that you feel when you get a hug from your mom after you’ve been away for a long time. It was such a change from the anger and hurt I had been feeling. It was evidence for the existence of God and of His love for me.

I have since had even greater challenges and there have been times when I didn’t have the heart to even turn to God as I should have. But eventually when I have gathered the emotional strength to turn to Him, I have received His comfort, either through a person who was inspired to help me or through a feeling of comfort.

But believing in Christ isn’t only about being comforted when you need to be comforted, it’s also about following Him and using His sacrifice to become better. My belief in Christ gives me a concrete standard of goodness. And when I don’t measure up to that standard, Christ’s sacrifice allows me to lose the part of myself that doesn’t measure up. It allows me to look at myself and not be limited by my current identity. When I find a selfish motive or I say something defensive or unkind, it is Christ who said, “Go and sin no more.” His words tell me “You can be better than that.” God is not like the rest of the world. He won’t remember the past if we rely on Christ, and change. So, my identity is not stuck in my faults. I can drop them to become better.

So—my childhood understanding of faith was wrong. There is no magical world where if you believe in something, suddenly, without effort, you have no problems and become this great person. It is believing in Christ, following his standard of goodness, letting Christ’s sacrifice allow us to change and forgive life’s troubles as they come that will allow us to become better. I’m just trying to be a little better one day at a time.

God is real. I am grateful for Christ’s sacrifice that allows me to come back to God to feel his love, be forgiven, and start over. My belief gives me power to heal, and to improve.

R. Kirk Belnap:

I attempt here to give a brief account of “the reason of the hope that is in [me]” (1 Peter 3:13). Let me begin by saying that I cannot remember a time when I did not feel a love for God and trust that He loves us and watches over us. I also acknowledge that I have been backed up against the wall of faith many a time, but, in answer to prayer, the Spirit of God has always pierced the clouds of doubt or discouragement to enlighten my mind, for which I am most grateful.

A servant of God placed his hands upon my head when I was a young man and declared, “Thou shalt be given special experiences which shall strengthen thy testimony of the divinity of the Gospel.” That prophecy has been and continues to be fulfilled. As a youth I had a number of experiences that taught me that God hears and answers prayers. For example, when I was a 16-year-old high school student in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Lord heard me and came to my aid in a miraculous manner. The divine intervention that helped me to solve a significant problem that I could not solve on my own was astounding, but what impressed me most: I experienced God’s love so powerfully then and have on occasions since that I know for myself that the love of God is indeed “most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22). I have also learned that what we call “miracles,” those things we cannot explain, do not convince. They confirm, they are an occasional and natural result of faith in Christ, but sure knowledge comes only through the witness of the Spirit of God.

As a child I admired the men and women of faith in the scriptures and soon became a student of holy writ, which has become a life-long love affair. At first I played favorites. I was so taken with the New Testament at age 17 that I was certain it would be my life’s work. Accordingly, I began studying Biblical Greek as a freshman at Brigham Young University (BYU). However, as a full-time missionary in Switzerland and Germany I developed a greatly increased appreciation for the power of the Book of Mormon to bring one to God and could no longer say that there was one volume of scripture that held pre-eminence in my heart. Since then, I have in turn come to greatly value the Doctrine and Covenants, the Old Testament, and the Pearl of Great Price, all the word of God, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The unity of these inspired volumes became particularly clear to me as I taught Old and New Testament courses during the 1996/97 academic year as a faculty member at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. This entailed both classroom and on-site teaching, a marvelous experience for our whole family. We had the opportunity to become intimately acquainted with Bible lands and with our students over the course of our months together, in and out of the classroom. It was wonderful to be part of such a community of believers, all intent on learning more about their Savior.

I can’t say when the Arabic seed was planted, but it was already growing when as a missionary I took a particular interest in the many Middle Easterners we met. During my sophomore year at BYU, my Biblical Hebrew professor suggested that I take Arabic. I’d already been thinking that I should study either Chinese, Arabic, or Russian. In spite of the fact that I was then living with a family that spoke Russian and had studied a little Chinese and showed some aptitude, I felt drawn to Arabic. I began to study it and this eventually led to my receiving a fellowship that took us to Cairo for a year. I ended up getting a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania.

During graduate school, the Spirit of the Lord blessed me in my studies and in my interactions with faculty, students, and others. I was only in residence at Penn two years before the financial needs of our growing family compelled me to find full-time employment. My graduate advisor warned that if I left then I would never finish my degree, but leave we did. The Spirit guided me as I worked and prayed my way through selecting my dissertation topic, doing the research, and writing it up. The results ended up shedding new light on the history of Arabic and drew the attention of highly respected scholars. From previous experiences with the Spirit of the Lord, I recognized its influence at various stages of the dissertation process and can only give God the glory for those insights and subsequent professional endeavors that would not have turned out as well as they have without inspiration from Heaven. Here is one such experience:

12/12/04 12:01 am
Good day. We had a major breakthrough in our research, something I’d felt in my gut but had been hoping to demonstrate statistically:

Students’ attitude about the difficulty of learning Arabic significantly (p=.01) correlated negatively with the students’ perception that their instructors believe in the students’ ability to learn Arabic. In other words, the instructors’ faith in the students’ ability to learn the language correlates with students’ feeling that Arabic is not so difficult. Even more simply put, without assuming causation, the more the teacher shows they believe the student can learn Arabic, the less the student feels that Arabic is difficult, and vice-versa.

This is really a big deal. It gives us real ammunition to back up our subjective observations of the negative effect of the common belief held by Arabs that Arabic is the most difficult language in the world, so difficult that it is more or less unlearnable. I feel particularly grateful because I believe I was prompted by the Spirit to put in those [survey] items, especially the one about the instructor believing in their students’ ability to learn the language.

In short, the Spirit has been a key partner to good things I have been blessed to accomplish in my professional life. I only wish I were better at acting on the light granted me.

Upon completing my Ph.D. coursework I was hired by BYU to set up its intensive Arabic program. This was our first Jerusalem experience (1989). In an unusual development (there were already two Arabists on the BYU faculty), I ended up being asked to stay on at BYU, which has been tremendously rewarding. The atmosphere of faith and open inquiry is intellectually and spiritually stimulating. My life has been blessed in countless ways through my association with world-class scholars who are no less men and women of great faith and character.

I teach mostly Arabic courses. I did not plan or aspire to do so. For years I didn’t really consider myself an Arabist. I have come to recognize that the Spirit of the Lord led me into my present field, an answer to my prayers as a young man to be an instrument to make a difference in the world. Learning Arabic is a challenging matter (one reason being that there is so much hype about it being so difficult to learn). I feel a sense of mission in connection with this in at least two ways. First, in teaching Arabic (particularly in helping to make learning Arabic an enjoyable rather than a tedious process), I have the opportunity to help students come to understand Arabs and prepare them to have positive experiences traveling or working in the Middle East. I feel a sense of mission in building bridges of understanding between East and West.

Generally, when I ask our students why they are studying Arabic, they answer that they are not sure, but they feel it is something they should do. One day in Jerusalem in 1997, I was writing an email message to try to encourage my students as they struggled with the feelings of discouragement that are common to students early in their study abroad experience. As I wrote I commented that I did not believe that they were there studying Arabic by accident. Immediately the Spirit of the Lord let me know in no uncertain terms that they were indeed there by design, that they have a mission to fulfill. I communicated that experience to the students in that email message. Without my asking for a reply, one after another wrote back that they were not certain as to why they were there studying Arabic, but that they had been led to do so. One young man commented that he had never received a clearer answer to prayer in his life. It was at that moment that I realized, more clearly than ever before, that I had been led to be involved in teaching Arabic at BYU, that we have a work to do.

Historically, Christians have considered Islam the enemy, even the anti-Christ. “Christianity” has also dealt harshly with Jews. I believe that God has a special plan in mind for these children of Abraham, for all of His children, but the matter of God’s dealings with Muslims and Jews has particularly been on my mind for decades now. I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with people from many different lands and faiths. I have learned that God is at work in all the world, that He knows best and leads people along patiently. I have learned that He is in charge, that He knows what He is doing, that He rarely forces light and knowledge on us. I have also learned that He works through us. I believe that when we see the big picture, probably after this life, when we understand the extent and wisdom of God’s work with every human being, it will be “great and marvelous” in our eyes (Rev. 15:3). I am sure that the Father of us all is disappointed at the demonization of other faiths. I believe that Islam has played a very important role in challenging “Christianity” and keeping it from becoming worse than it did become in its darkest hours. I suspect this is just one of the eye-openers awaiting “Christians.”

I wish to share one missionary experience from my first few months in Switzerland. One Sunday morning as I sat in the little chapel in Thun and watched the faithful Saints, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, come in and take their seats I was filled with the Spirit of God. I felt overwhelmed with love and gratitude, and I was made to understand that these humble Saints who honor the name of Joseph Smith as a prophet of the living God are a fulfillment of divine prophecy. Here is Joseph Smith’s account of the experience: “He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (Joseph Smith-History 1:33). That prophecy continues to be fulfilled, as the knowledge of God’s work spreads, by word of mouth, by print, and by personal revelation to many seekers of truth.

Some Christians question the mention of Joseph Smith in a “testimony.” I know for myself that the word of God has been conveyed to us and continues to come to us through mortals, through special witnesses. Yes, the heart and soul of our message really is “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). But even Paul, the author of these words, reminds us of the special place of God’s special mortal messengers, that we are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). We would know nothing of God’s work in ancient times without these prophets and apostles.

Nothing has changed. I would no more be free of baggage by discarding Joseph Smith than I would by setting aside Peter, Matthew, John, Paul, and Isaiah. To be sure, the witness and revelations of such special witnesses, ancient and modern, are the means, not the end (John 5:39); they were and are and will be given to bring us to Christ and keep us rooted in Him. I believe in Jesus Christ. He is my Savior. I know that without Him I am lost. With the prophet Alma, I have cried out in the anguish of my soul, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness” (Alma 36:18). I have felt that “the chains of hell which encircled [me] about, were…loosed, and [my soul] did expand,” and I have felt to “sing redeeming love” (Alma 5:9). I feel acutely the weakness of the flesh, but I am encouraged by what the Spirit of the Lord has done to my heart. I hope and pray that I will continue, by His grace, to grow up in Him (Eph. 4:13-15; Heb. 12).

My experience as a “born-again Mormon” is that I have not been led in any manner to distance myself from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Joseph Smith. Nor do I detect a hint of this in other Latter-day Saints in whom I perceive the Spirit of God working. Rather, we are led by the Spirit to sit at the feet of Christ’s living prophets and apostles. This is not blind faith. Born of the Spirit, this is a vital, active faith in God, the Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. My determination and prayer is to be true to the Spirit’s prompting to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). I thank God for that great opportunity. And let me add my witness in this matter. There are many things I do not know or understand. However, the Spirit of God has witnessed with power to my soul that those who lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are indeed Christ’s apostles. To hear for yourself apostolic witnesses and direction as to how to know for yourself, I highly recommend two recent addresses. The talk given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s in the Sunday Morning session and “A Living Testimony”
by President Henry B. Eyring, both available at: http://lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2011/04?lang=eng

I invite you to sincerely investigate the matter, trying the spirits (1 John 1:4). If you do not feel led to do so I would enjoin you to beware of passing judgment. I suggest the counsel of Gamaliel: “And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39). Most important, let me add my witness of Jesus Christ. That same Spirit of which I have spoken has revealed to my Spirit, in a manner that transcends the knowledge gained through the natural senses, that He is the Son of God. He lived. He suffered and died for me and you. He arose from the tomb and He lives, for me and for you.

When the Spirit of God comes over me, I feel remade. I feel hope, light, joy—filled with love. And it is light. With it, I can see things I do not otherwise see, my mind is opened to understand. It whispers peace. I testify that I regularly hear the Lord speaking to me in a very personal manner through the scriptures. God has prepared a powerful tool to bring souls to Christ, to help them know that: 1) Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; 2) He has called prophets and apostles and restored truth and keys of authority to perform crucial ordinances; 3) what we read in the Bible is true. The means he has ordained: The Book of Mormon: Another Testimony of Christ.

A few years ago the Lord’s prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, challenged members of the Church to read or reread The Book of Mormon from cover to cover. I, with many others, embraced this counsel. Contained in the book’s final chapter is this important promise:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:3-5)

I have read the book many times and received repeated spiritual witnesses of its truth, but when I read that promise again, I felt moved to do as the ancient prophet counseled. Here is my account of what happened:

12/23/04 11:18 pm
This morning I read Moroni chapter 10. I read verse four carefully and bowed my head in prayer and asked that my testimony of the Book of Mormon might be strengthened. I wondered if I was in any position to be asking in confidence. I wondered if I was asking without taking thought to ask, if I’d studied it out in my heart as the Lord counseled Oliver Cowdery [D&C 9:8]. I didn’t feel in any position to insist or push, but I asked more intently. I kept reading and wondered if the Lord would see fit to answer my prayer any time soon. I read thoughtfully through the rest of the chapter….

After some pondering of what I’d read I took a shower. As I showered my thoughts seemed to be directed to significant testimony-building events throughout my life, in rapid succession. I thought about the time I prayed in our Peugeot [in Fairbanks], begging for help to find a lost tool. How powerfully I felt the Lord’s love. I thought of the time I was prompted to bear testimony of Elijah and temple work to the newly-married woman on the flight from Washington to Atlanta.

As I stood in front of the mirror, shaving cream on my face and razor in hand I felt to say, “It’s true, isn’t it.” As I did so the Spirit settled upon me. I felt a warmth spread from my head all the way down my body. I felt peace and gratitude. I knew that the witness I had requested had come. And once again I felt to praise the Lord and acknowledge His great mercy and kindness to me….

20 min[ut]es later: I just told the girls about my experience and bore my testimony of the Book of Mormon as I finished. The Spirit filled me and I testified with fire in my heart. I knew this would happen. Earlier, I felt that the final witness of the truth of the book would come as I opened my mouth to bear witness. What an amazing thing it is, that we mortals can be conduits for the heavenly message, and that our testimonies are strengthened and even obtained in the bearing of them.

12/26/04 11:34 pm
Once again I feel profoundly indebted to the Lord for His grace, for touching hearts in our Sunday School class. [My daugher] said it was a great lesson—which means a lot. I’ve wanted so to help my students to feel a desire to become life-long students of the Book of Mormon, to ask to know of its truth. For many reasons I felt unworthy, unprepared—but I also felt that I had not been given the experiences I had this week just for my own benefit. Yesterday and today I felt prompted that I should tell my class that their fledgling testimonies will be strengthened as they follow the promptings of the Spirit to open their mouths and share what they know or believe or feel. What a blessing it is to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands.

12/27/04 7:21 am
P.S. I was impressed yesterday (or was it the day before?) that in upcoming fireside opportunities I should stress that the Book of Mormon has lessons for our time that we are failing to heed, that we, like the Nephites, need to go to our Muslim brothers and sisters like the sons of Mosiah and serve in Lamoni’s courts, that we need to band together with our good Muslim brothers and sisters against secret combinations. There are just too many who believe that things will only get worse, that there’s no hope for the Middle East. I felt impressed that I should remind them of Elder Nelson’s comments that peace is possible and of Pres. Hinckley’s related comments….

How blessed we are to have the Book of Mormon. What treasures await us as we search its pages, hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Sometimes it takes a little patience, but, without fail, as we prayerfully do so, the Spirit fills us up to overflowing, again and again. The Book of Mormon really is a work for our time. While it is key, we should also feast on the word of God found in the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. How my life has been blessed as the Lord has spoken directly to me through each of these sacred volumes. I know, with the certainty that only God can bestow, that these things are true.

Finally, here is a more recent account that illustrates the working of the Spirit of God in me and others:

2/2/11 5:02 am
I awoke about 4:00 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Soon thereafter I heard the Call to Prayer and got on my knees. I’ve felt a little distant from the Lord in the past couple of weeks. I haven’t been drinking as deeply from the words of life as usual. I poured out my soul to the Lord, praying for the Spirit….

I felt impressed to do as I felt Sunday, to write to my Sunday School class members…. I also felt some guidance as to how to move things forward in my work. I’ve felt of late that we need to do two things: show students how to reach Advanced levels of proficiency, but also hold out hope for those who won’t make a lot of linguistic progress, but who nevertheless can enjoy significant benefits. I began to think about brain research and benefits of foreign language study.

As I was about to begin writing this journal entry I wondered if I shouldn’t first open the scriptures or perhaps the Conference Ensign to see what the Lord might have to say to me. At this moment my eyes fell on my January 1 journal entry that appeared on the screen and I began to read and knew that here was where the Lord would speak to me this morning. In the second paragraph I read: “How grateful I am for the Spirit of the Lord that can help us to see with eyes of faith.” Amen and amen!

My prayer this morning to be strengthened in my faith in Christ was answered as I read of experience after experience where the Lord had opened my eyes to see and blessed me and others to be instruments to bless….

How grateful I am for the Spirit of the Lord that has worked in me this morning, that has worked in so many of us of late…. I know indeed that the verse I read again this morning in my Jan. 1 entry is true: “redemption cometh through Christ the Lord” (Msh. 16:15), that our kind and loving Heavenly Father sent Him “to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised [literally: those who are pressed down]” (Luke 4:18). This morning I have been “wrought upon by the Spirit of God, and [have] been healed” (3 Nephi 7:22)….

After writing this I felt to kneel and thank my Father in Heaven from the bottom of my heart for His tender mercies manifest in His Son. As I did so the Spirit opened my eyes to see that events of the past couple of days that I felt a little disappointed about are in fact blessings in disguise. I saw that I have been blessed as I’ve tried to follow Pres. Monson’s recent counsel “to thank the Lord thy God in all things” (Alma 34:38), which I read again on the plane yesterday. He also said: “We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude.”

2/4/11 1:25 pm
I’m just back from church. What a treat…. After the meeting…I got into a fascinating conversation with a fellow working here with the State Dept. on water issues…. [He] told me his story. Raised [as a conservative Christian], he couldn’t go through with his plans to be a minister because he couldn’t teach that all will be damned who aren’t baptized (he’d met some great people [of other faiths] while serving in the military). For ten years he and his wife searched but did not find a church they felt comfortable joining (they went to church every week). LDS missionaries found them in the Philip[p]ines. He read the Book of Mormon through in little more than 24 hrs. and prayed about it. He said that all his life he’d hoped to be filled with the Spirit, but only experienced this after praying to know of the truth of the Book of Mormon. He recalls how that he could feel the warmth down to his toes.

Interestingly, he said that a pastor of the congregation they’d been attending shook him for a little when he said, “You’re going to risk your eternal salvation for a feeling?!” That worried him for a bit and he wondered if he should trust the feeling. Our faith will always be tried. I could not help but think of:

And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive…. (D&C 11:12-14)

The witness of the Holy Ghost is much more than a feeling—though the feeling side of His influence can overwhelm us, and especially long-term memory (which, I believe, better records emotional aspects of experiences). We may feel completely comfortable in trusting the Holy Spirit because our eyes are opened to see and know the truth of things we could not have otherwise known.

Richard E. Bennett:

I have been teaching LDS Church History and Doctrine for much of my professional career. However, my interest in and commitment to this field began in my life at least as early as ten years of age. In the year 1956 I participated in a family pilgrimage, visiting Church History sites from Vermont to Utah. It was a summer of unforgettable memories as eight family members crowded into a small Ford sedan in a trip that covered over 6,000 miles. Despite the crowded conditions, the lack of seat belts, the heat, and the camping out in tents every night, I began to taste and feel Church History. A year or two later I witnessed my grandfather’s conversion in the Sacred Grove and later travelled cross-country with him to the temple, and this at a time when he was dying of cancer. I came to feel Church History even before I read Church History. I did not then know all the academic arguments, the philosophical debates, or divergent paths of the restoration, but I gained a foundation of understanding, feeling, and faith that has stayed with me since. I believe the Lord in his kindness impressed upon my young soul a testimony that no amount of book learning could ever provide. Thank God for that foundation.

Church History is not so much about debates or facts, myths or dates, books or historiographies. For me it is less about the past and more about the present and future. In short, I have felt my way through Church History and its doctrines, and the peaceful, sweet feelings of the Holy Ghost have ever confirmed my childhood testimony that, with all its ups and downs, frustrations and disappointments, our history is a wonder to behold! Men and women throughout our history may have made shipwreck of their lives but the Gospel message of faith, hope, forgiveness, and love remains a constant no matter who the changing personalities have been or what the changing lay of the land may be. And for all the arguments put forth that the Church has changed, that we gave up this or that practice, and that we are not the same Church in the twenty-first century as we were in the beginning, I have a contrary view. Like a corn stalk that starts with a small seed and blade of grass and then grows and matures into something almost unrecognizable by those who have been away for a time, this is the same Church and Gospel today in 2011 as it was in 1830! I look back upon the pages of Church History in much the same way I look upon my childhood. ‘So that’s what the experience means.’ ‘So that is what I have learned from it.’ If, as Wordsworth once wrote, “The child is father to the man,” than our history is critical to know because it tells us why we now are what we are. It is a mirror to our souls.

And the same principles and teachings remain, despite changing policies and priorities and even temporary practices. The same spirit pervades, and not one just of pilgrimage or curiosity but one that brings a lifetime of joy and lasting change for the better.

I am at peace with our history because of the peace that the Spirit of the Lord has given me concerning it. It remains for me a testimony of the hand of the Lord.

George Bennion:

I suppose I am qualified to say I know that God lives. I don’t know it in the way I know who my children are or the way I know the difference between an apple and a potato. It is more like the way I know that kindness is better than roughness. I have a brother who, all his adult life, had “spiritual” experiences. I am not sure I have had such. Perhaps twice, but I can’t be sure the emotion of the moment didn’t induce the sensation. I had gone to Pearl Harbor soon after the December 7th attack. An uncle of mine had been killed in the attack and had been buried at Aiea, a promontory overlooking the harbor. I had been given a number marking his place, and found it on a day off. I went there several times, the last on an Easter Sunday. As I stood there, I thought about him, about a pleasant visit I had had with him while he was alive, about the circumstances reported of his death. And I prayed. During the prayer, I had the strongest impression that he was there, acknowledging me. I didn’t see him or hear him, but I was sure. Years later, I wondered if the intensity of my own feelings and the circumstances—my affection for him, my loneliness in those days—might have induced the sensation. I think he did respond, but I don’t know that.

There have been times when I needed help with a problem and thought I was given that help—an idea, a way to proceed. I was in Japan at the end of the war and had driven my commander from Sasebo Harbor to Tokyo and then took a train back to camp. I could not speak or read Japanese, and needed help to get off at the right station. It was evening when I boarded and the wee hours when I thought I must be close. The train was loaded with Japanese still in their uniforms, and, in my mind, not necessarily delighted to have a GI riding with them, but I had to ask someone. Most Japanese soldiers had had English in school. Two of them assured me that the next stop was mine. I got off, but immediately felt it was wrong. I quickly got back on the train. At another stop, there was a sign in English announcing my depot, the only English sign I had seen on the entire trip. I was sure, again, that I had been ‘helped.’ But it was not apples and potatoes.

In fact, that sort of thing is not the basis of my belief. I am pleased with the idea that in this life we walk by faith. That’s not just good enough for me, it is very productive. There is something wonderfully wholesome in the idea that I have to trust and to reach out. That’s great not only in religious matters, but in family relations, in friendships, in buying and selling, in science. It is a basic of life. The apostles are by definition special witnesses for Christ. And it is a conviction of mine that God would not require this of them without giving them a valid basis for doing so. I believe them when they say, “I know.” But it is sufficient for me to believe and to trust.

The real basis for my belief is the doctrine. The ideas of my religion are at least as important in my believing as any sense of contact with “the other side.” What good would it be if someone from the other side came to me openly, visibly, and said, “It’s true,” but the business on “the other side” were foolishness? The ideas in Christ’s teachings are all-important. For instance, some years ago I was reading a doctoral dissertation that had to do with the question of Jesus’ divinity. It reported a dispute between some of the early Christians. One position held that Christ’s divinity was inferior to the Father’s because he was born of a mortal woman. The opposite position, championed by Athanasius, was that “God became man, that man could become god.” That is a revealed doctrine of the LDS church: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become,” the doctrine of eternal progression, one of the beautiful ideas.

Another appealing belief has to do with our agency, and addresses one of the hang-ups for some people: the problem of evil and suffering in the world. Some ask, “How could God let my daughter be raped?” Or “How could a just God allow the genocide in Somalia?” Enoch asked God how it was that he could weep. And God told him.

The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; and unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. . . . Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also. Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren. But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them. . . . Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? . . . And That [capital ‘T,’ meaning Christ] which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me. (Moses 7:32-39)

So he can weep. Pain and anguish are not ours alone. He suffers for our misbehavior, and for our loss. But in spite of all his desire for us to “make it,” it is eminently clear that he will not interfere with our decisions. Agency is sacrosanct. He will not prevent our folly or our evil.

Another idea: Christ tells us (in Doctrine and Covenants 93:29, 31) that “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. . . Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man.” We are coeval with God, of the same species, cut from the same cloth. This indicates that our minds, or something about them, are sacred to him—precious in his view. I am not sure about the idea that he gave us agency. Perhaps what is meant is that he endorses it, champions it. Surely, where there is intelligence, there is volition. In any case, he does not stop a person from criminal acts or even childish misbehavior. Since this mortal experience is a testing time, we must be free to choose our course. If it were not so, we could scarcely be either blamed or praised for what we do. What would we be but a tool someone else used? Further, the Chinese principle of Li insists that a child’s reverence for his father and a citizen’s for the emperor be reciprocated: the emperor must revere the citizen and the father his son. That concept prompted me to wonder what there is about us that could evoke awe in God, the great creator. What could he see in me that would explain the enormous investment he has made? It could not be my mathematical ability. It could hardly be the consistency with which I have applied myself in any way. It has to be something about my potential, and that has to do with my mind, my being in charge of and responsible for myself—my agency. The gospel of Christ is beautiful to me. I love it. I believe it.

John Bennion:

My injunction here is to give reason of the hope that is in me, which hope I apprehend as a patchwork of light and dark memories. The scriptures about opposition say there is no pleasure without pain, no joy without sorrow, no hope without despair. So I find myself focusing on the seams of my being and of the universe, fault lines, where one thing becomes another. One reason for hope: I am grateful that Jesus Christ fulfilled the law of the Old Testament.

I’ve been reading the Book of Judges recently. Many of the stories show how women were not valued beyond their ability to procreate or give pleasure to men: Jeph-thah swore as he returned from a successful battle that he would sacrifice whatever came out of his door to greet him. His only child, a daughter, emerged and he rent his clothes in sorrow but sacrificed her anyway. The writer of the passage uses the story to show the daughter’s nobility as she says, “My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth” (Judges 11:36). I think he was a double fool for making a rash promise and for valuing abstractions more than he valued his daughter.

In Judges 19 an unnamed Ephraimite, a houseguest in a city of the tribe of Benjamin, protected himself by allowing his concubine to be offered to a mob surrounding the house. The men abused her all night, injuring her so severely that she died with her hands on the threshold. The Ephraimite cut her body into twelve sections and sent the pieces to the borders of Israel. Israel, outraged at her rape and murder and probably at the threat to her husband, declared war on the tribe of Benjamin. Still the first evil act was when the master of the house opened the door and offered her to the men, valuing her safety and life less than the life of his guest.

The stories go on and on. Women also killed savagely: Jael hammered a nail through the temple of Sisera while he was sleeping. The violence is horrific, not just in Judges, but in much of the Old Testament, and it wasn’t just women who were treated cruelly. The Children of Israel seized Canaan by force and believed God commanded them to destroy many cities of their enemies—man, woman and child. There are exceptions to this cruelty against women and foreigners, which seem connected to the strong tradition of hospitality to strangers. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh allow the Canaanites to dwell in Gezer and serve under tribute. Boaz is courteous to Ruth. Throughout the Old Testament some men treasure their wives, some consider that they are not the only child God respects.

So for me the love of God shines only periodically or even sporadically through the history of the Old Testament. This light is especially strong through the words of the prophets. Isaiah prophesied of the Savior, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. . . . For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isaiah 9: 2, 6). In a voice like Jesus’ voice Jeremiah wrote,

For among my people are found wicked men. . . . As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great and waxen rich. They waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge.” (Jeremiah 5: 27-28)

Earlier Elijah discovered God’s love for his children, and did so on the rack of his apparent failure to motivate Israel to keep covenants. His voice is mournfully lonely as he complained, “I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (I Kings 19:10). In response God commanded Elijah to stand on the mountain and observe:

And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind and earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (I Kings 19:11-12)

In that small voice even mournful Elijah found hope in the love of God.

Despite these glimmers of hope, as Israel discovered and defined itself against covenants made with God, many of the Israelites didn’t seem to fret much about those destroyed and killed in God’s name. I understand that judging a former time by my own light might be anachronistic. I also understand that sometimes death isn’t the worst that can happen, that sometimes killing someone is the best available option. But I don’t have to like it. I don’t believe in the virtue of letting war and killing sit comfortably in my head.

All of which leads me to admire to the core of my soul the revolution that Christ embodied. His attitude toward women and foreigners was nontraditional: He treated the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well with courtesy, asking her for water, divining details of her life but not insulting her for them, telling her about the living water constituted in his being. He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee” (John 8:11). He spoke respectfully to the Greek woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit. When she suggested that, while the Jews might get served first, others might gather crumbs from under the table, he doesn’t rebuke her. She has the confidence to engage in a witty battle with him, using his own metaphor to get him to consider her position. He said to her, “For this saying, go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter” (Mark 7:29). When the woman with an issue of blood, unclean by traditional law, touched the hem of his garment, he turned and said, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matthew 9:21). He also respected his mother’s wish when he transformed water into wine. Jesus was a man who loved all—women and foreigners, those without power, not just those who were fellow citizens. He gave respect to lepers, sinners, publicans, Samaritans, and working people like fisherman. He didn’t even have a prejudice against truth seekers from the higher echelons of society.

Down to our day the world says might is right or the strong will conquer. His Sermon on the Mount reverses this order of power, gives us the very machinery to learn empathy for others: Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the poor in spirit. He overturned our basic instinct for survival and domination, redefining it as less important than purity of heart. He told his followers that we are the salt of the earth, a light to the world, a city on a hill, but what gives us these qualities is our compassion for others, our ability to become like children in our openness and respect for God and all his children. He said he had not come to destroy the law crafted with Israel through centuries of mixed obedience to covenants, but to fulfill. He overturned without overturning: “Ye have heard, thou shalt not kill, but whosoever is angry at his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:22); and “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). He opened/opens our hearts, breaks us, so that we can feel and live. The road to perfection is forgetting ourselves, paradoxically. He taught his disciples: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth; Lay up treasures in heaven; For where your treasure is there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye. Let thy body be full of light. Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink. Consider the lilies of the field and trust God. (Matthew 6) His lectures to his disciples are instructions in how to see ourselves and each other without the base desire to compete, to vaunt ourselves over others, including women, strangers, and foreigners. He taught us to live without bigotry.

Still he transformed the world only as we allow him to. Many throughout history have ground down the weak or the foreign in his name: the Crusaders, the Inquisitors, those who burned the martyrs in England, those who perpetrated the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Many Christians have mistaken virginity for value, foreignness for evil, difference for worthlessness. Without forcing us to obey, he opened the door to a new way of seeing that can fundamentally change the way we think about ourselves and other people.

My hope is that he would have me do today what he did then: respect those who it is easy to hate—anyone who is different, weaker, who doesn’t think the way I do. This includes the gay person, the immigrant, the person of a different religion. He would have me love the tyrant and the rich man. He would have me urge employers to pay women the same as men, would fight against child pornography, would enable the impoverished sick to get care, would work to end such practices as female castration, child slavery, prostitution, and other kinds of cruelty and inequity.

My experience with prayer coincides with what I know about Jesus from the scriptures. As I pray to God, the Father, somehow Jesus is there also, mediating, helping me bridge or breach the gulf between me and God. We know, as Mormons, that God and Christ both have bodies, and this may make us guilty of an odd kind of anthropomorphism, believing that God sees the universe as we do. I don’t think this belief is supported in the scriptures. We are told that we see through a glass darkly and that God’s ways are mysterious. Mormon, reviewing the history of the Nephites, wrote, “Oh how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God” (Helaman 12:7-8). I also think it’s clear that while our vision falls short of God’s vision, as we strive to see humanity and the universe as Christ does, we grow to be more like him (1 John 1:3).

How do we see? One metaphor is that we see the universe the way a poor writer of fiction sees his own characters, as stock stereotypes revolving around one central complex story, our own. Or we see others as we see the moon, which also has only one face toward us. We have difficulty imagining, as Roger Waters put it, the dark side of the moon. We see in stereotypes, as bigots, narrowly. We often see others as one-sided or even malformed beings.

There is a man in my ward who doesn’t see Muslims this way. If I’ve ever met a warrior, this man is one, and he studies the people he fights against. He never makes the mistake of thinking that all Muslims are the same. He has read their holy texts, talked to them extensively, and is as patient as a fisherman with people he’s met from Iraq and Afghanistan. He spends time finding similarities between his own beliefs and theirs. I’m not interested in violence and I never thought I could learn Christianity from a man capable of killing another human being, but to his core this soldier is a Christian.

As happened with my neighbor, I occasionally get glimpses of the way God may see the universe. One was when I stared at the bone yard at Dinosaur National Park, which is located at the bend of an ancient river. As animals died and floated down, they became caught where the water slowed and turned. Through the ages sediment built on sediment, bone on bone. Then an earthquake tipped the whole section of earth on its side. Once scientists had made a horizontal cross section, they had cut through all the ages. They left the last layer half exposed, for anyone to examine. As I looked at those giant femurs, massive pelvises, larger than any land animal living today, I was struck with the massiveness of the universe and the majesty and complexity of God. It felt the same as I feel looking into the immensity of space. God is just larger than we can easily imagine.

Another experience: I was irrigating in the desert before leaving on my mission. I carried 3×5 cards in my back pocket so I could memorize them as I worked in my father’s alfalfa fields. I walked down the lane, in the middle of small green field in the middle of a high desert valley, and I read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). At that moment I knew God’s love for me. I felt the God of the universe condescending to me. During that time in the desert and during many other periods of my life, I felt unprepared and haphazard, as if I stumbled forward into the darkness, but at that moment, I felt God’s individual, specific love for me.

Christ’s vision seems complex, not in any way simple. How does he see? A metaphor: perhaps the way an insect eye sees reality with multifaceted or compound vision. He sees as man and as God, both at once, our mediator. Another metaphor: perhaps he apprehends reality from four, six, or infinity dimensions. So how do we grow to see as Christ does? I believe that it’s a little like writing fiction. We imagine. We imagine the dark side of the moon, the faces our friends give to others. We imagine someone else’s perspective and feel it in our gut as strongly as we feel our own being.

George Eliot, who didn’t believe in Christ’s divinity, nonetheless understood the basic tenet of Christianity, trying to understand another person as they understand themselves. She wrote of a character who realizes that her hopes and dreams are not those of her husband:

We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves: Dorothea had early begun to emerge from that stupidity, but yet it had been easier for her to imagine how she would devote herself to Mr Casaubon, and become wise and strong in his strength and wisdom, than to conceive with that distinctness which is no longer reflection but feeling—an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects—that he had an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference.” (Middlemarch)

Last night we drove to Grantsville to watch my niece perform in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. My sister had invited us to have dinner in honor of her daughter before watching the play. We were late and could only quickly say “break a leg” before my niece had to leave to put on her costume and makeup at the high school. Later, as I sat in the dark, watching my niece’s face as she sang and danced, I imagined her being crushed by the world, that her innocence could become disillusionment, her hope despair, and her happiness sorrow. Her pure face will become wrinkled and eventually she will die. Then I knew, despite the likelihood that many of these things may indeed happen to her, she can hope and I can hope because of Christ’s life and sacrifice.

After the play was over, in the middle of the crowd congratulating the performers, I saw my sister weeping as she spoke with a man. I didn’t know him but discovered that he had taught another of my sister’s children, a son, in high school. My nephew was killed in an auto accident twelve years ago. Before his death, while he was still in high school, my nephew had done something wrong, harming this teacher. Soon after my nephew’s death, my sister wrote the teacher a letter, expressing her belief that her son was sorry for his mistake. The letter was misplaced somehow and not found until now. My sister wept as this man told her he had just read the letter and had forgiven her son. My sister still mourns her son, especially on the anniversary of his death. She will never forget this loss. So she wept because of gratitude and grief, happiness that this man had forgiven and sorrow that he couldn’t say so to her son, face-to-face.

I know through my study of the scriptures and through personal experience, that Christ has not forgotten my sister and her children, alive and dead, and I know he has not forgotten me. This is my hope.

Michael T. Benson:

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.”
(2 Corinthians 13:5)

Recently, I had occasion to spend some time with a good friend who is a devout Catholic. Our late afternoon golf outing followed a day spent on the campus of Wheaton College, where a graduate school classmate of mine had been inaugurated as the eighth president. Wheaton is a 150-year-old evangelical school just west of Chicago, Illinois, which counts among its eminent alumni the Reverend Billy Graham. As we came up the eighteenth fairway, my friend said to me: “Mike, I’ve decided to use you as an example with others: here you are a committed Mormon in the midst of finishing a degree at Notre Dame, golfing with your Catholic friend after spending the day at Wheaton College. Now that’s ecumenical!”

While I was flattered by my friend’s observation, my experience is hardly unique. I have been blessed throughout life to see much of the world, to be exposed to many of God’s creations and children, and to experience many cultural, intellectual, and religious traditions. Within these various settings and among a whole host of different people, the Lord has provided opportunities for me to try as best I can to adhere to the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.”

Two of my very best friends have religious traditions far different from my own: Roman Catholicism and Judaism. These friends are committed to their faiths, they make tremendous sacrifices, they serve others, and they positively impact the lives of their families and associates. They have my unending respect and admiration for their adherence to their own traditions and faith. I am a better person for knowing them. My own beliefs have been reinforced and deepened by witnessing first-hand the devotion my friends demonstrate on a daily basis. In many areas, the devotion of my friends to their faith and principles exceeds my own—their examples have motivated me to do better and to try harder to live my own religious beliefs.

I must confess that, throughout my life, neither a great deal of attention nor time has been spent contemplating the mysteries or being consumed with theological—or even historical—discussions relative to doctrine or events in our Church’s past. This is not to suggest that I am not intellectually curious nor that I have never experienced periods of doubt nor questioned my own religious tradition. Frankly, there are parts to our history and dogma which I do not understand. Nonetheless, I do not allow discrepancies in records, accounts, or even theological arguments to interfere with what I might term a very simple faith. For others, these nagging questions or doubts prove to be insurmountable obstacles and have steered them off on a life path different from the one I have chosen to walk.

My faith is rooted and grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His life of service to others, in His sacrifice, death, and resurrection, and in His role in my everyday life. All else, as Joseph Smith said of our religion, is mere appendages to the incontrovertible fact that Jesus died on the cross, rose again in the third day, and lives today. This faith is what motivates me to try to do good and what keeps me among the Mormon faithful. It also motivates me to continue in good standing within the LDS Church so as to avail myself of priesthood ordinances and blessings, and thereby bless the lives of my family and friends. The organization of the Church, regardless of the congregation’s location—together with its members—has proven to be a constant in my life when other influences have ebbed and flowed.

In short, I try my best to find fellowship with the Mormon Saints for three simple reasons:

First, it is the faith of my fathers. As the anthem in our church hymnal concludes: “Faith of our fathers, holy faith—we will be true to thee ‘til death” (Hymns, no. 84). The examples of my forebears are not only humbling and motivating, but they also steel me for the challenges I face in my own life. In many ways, my devotion to the precepts of the LDS Church is in part an expression of gratitude to family members and others for what they sacrificed. Although I have my own agency and could choose any number of paths to take, my belief system has propelled me to never betray the trust of my family by abandoning the faith of my ancestors. And from my examination of other faiths and belief systems, Mormonism is the best fit for me personally and spiritually. It is what I know and what I believe.

Second, a commitment to and belief in the LDS Church have provided a solid and secure foundation by which I try to live a Christ-centered life. There are many areas where I fall short but I am buoyed up by our faith’s promise of forgiveness and eternal progression. I firmly believe in the principle of personal revelation and the importance of the Holy Ghost in prompting me daily as I strive to live in such a way as to merit its companionship. I also value our faith’s commitment to truth—in all of its forms and wherever it may be found—and the affirmation that we as mortals are expected, even commanded, to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). My own personal quest and pursuit of knowledge has led me back time and again and to the faith and traditions which my family and friends have inculcated in me since birth. Mormonism is as much a part of my cultural and personal DNA as any genetic code inherited from my parents.

Further, adherence to gospel principles has enabled me to make decisions that have served me very well and that don’t require that I “remake” these decisions over and over. A simple but profound example: while living and studying as a graduate student in England, I saw daily the destructive and addictive power of substance abuse in classmates’ lives. My abstention from these substances freed me from the consequences they had to face because of their own personal choices. Life can be hard enough without the compounding complications that come from making unwise life choices that could easily be avoided.

Third, the principles espoused by the LDS Church have blessed my life and provided opportunities for spiritual growth and service to others. While the latter years of high school—and most of my professional life—have been spent in Utah, I have often been among the minority in work and school circumstances as I have lived in other parts of the United States and the world. These settings have provided ample chances to demonstrate my active LDS faith by my actions. My hope is that these actions characterize me as one of the “believers” to those who observed my actions on a daily basis.

This, then, is my faith and my testimony. I choose to not share experiences or instances that are more private in nature because they are just that—they are personal to me and my life’s journey and I hold them sacred. As Isaiah says in my favorite passage in chapter forty, I have tried to “wait upon the Lord” (verse 40) and he has answered my prayers in powerful ways which I reflect on frequently to provide support during difficult times in life.

For me, the best way to “testify” of my beliefs is how I live my life. Jesus taught, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Arguably one of organized religion’s most revered figures, and the author of hymn number 62 in our LDS Hymnal, St. Francis of Assisi once wrote: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Allen E. Bergin:

I began my academic career in 1952 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with the goal of becoming a scientist. Spiritual matters were not prominent in my agnostic perspective, but a year of immersion in the material and mathematical worlds changed me. I wondered whether there wasn’t more to existence than empiricism.

One spring evening I went up onto the roof of Burton Hall to meditate. As I gazed out upon the Charles River and the Boston skyline, an odd feeling came over me. I knelt down and said my first deep prayer: “God, if you are there, help me know what life is all about.” Suddenly, a serene feeling came over me and my skin tingled. My mind seemed to open up and I sensed that there was something way beyond science. But I didn’t know what it was.

I soon consulted an academic adviser and asked whether I could pursue a different curriculum than engineering and physics in my second year, something more like the required Humanities class I had taken and enjoyed. I was told to try “General Science.” When I demurred, he told me about an MIT collaborative program with several select liberal arts colleges. After some deliberation, I chose Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and arrived there in the fall of 1953. The year at Reed significantly altered my life. I became engrossed in philosophy, psychology and art history, while gradually shedding my obligations in the math and physics courses.

More importantly, I met five brilliant young Mormons, the most significant being Marian Shafer, who was from Utah and Alberta, Canada. I gradually came to love Marian, who taught me the basics of the restored Gospel of Christ. She was only seventeen when we met but she held valiantly to her testimony against the scientific and philosophical arguments I threw at her religion. At the same time, I was buffeted by the atheistic orientation of my roommate, John Blake, who hailed from Greenwich Village in New York City. The year at Reed thus shook up my construction of the world both in coursework and in the ongoing informal debates that laced conversations everywhere on campus.

So it was that, when summer arrived, I left for construction work in Alaska with a large box of books on topics such as eastern religion, biological evolution, and Mormonism, including The Book of Mormon. I thus entered into an intensive study that added the possibility of revelation to the empirical and rational modes of inquiry to which I was accustomed. This became a mental “free-for-all.”

The Book of Mormon was stunning and challenging to my inquisitive mind. One day, after completing my study of the entire volume and lacing it with critical notes and questions, I hiked into the forested hinterland along the beautiful Tanana River. There, alone, I knelt reverently and asked God in the name of Christ if the book was true. What I experienced next is impossible to fully describe. It was an epiphany and a witness of truth, most sacred and desirable. The rejoicing by Enos and Ammon (Alma, chapter 26) reminds me of how I felt. I thirsted to know more and to feel again the Love of God that had encompassed me, but it would take time. More study, lifestyle alterations, careful reasoning, and religious experience were necessary before I could detach from my skeptical views and fully embrace the restored gospel and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Near that time, Marian surprised me with the news that she had decided to leave Reed College and enroll at BYU on an enticing scholarship. I knew zero about BYU but decided to visit there at the end of the summer. As I explored Provo, driving east on Center Street toward the stunning mountains, I was impressed to stop and pray in the car. The same kind of feeling occurred that I had experienced in Cambridge before I left MIT; but this time it was more direct, like “Coming Home.” So I transferred to BYU, my third school in three years.

At BYU, I continued my study of psychology, philosophy, and history while also adding courses in biological science and, particularly, in religion. By the end of my junior year, I had chosen to major in psychology, to become a member of the LDS church, and to marry Marian—which she agreed to! I was baptized in Provo on March 13, 1955, by BYU professor Robert K. Thomas, a Reed College and Columbia University alumnus. An academic leader, he was our teacher, counselor, and dear friend.

My conversion involved a continuing series of inquiries and divine inspirations, accompanied by a concerted effort to integrate, balance, and resolve conflicts among the different ways of knowing. Through study, prayer, and a repentant heart, revelation came, not as a light nor a voice, but by brilliant perceptions so vivid as to never be denied. I came to know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and the head of His Church. I know too that He has called and chosen an unbroken succession of Prophets, Seers and Revelators from the time of Joseph Smith to the present.

After receiving bachelors and masters degrees at BYU, I received my PhD in clinical psychology at Stanford (1957-60) under the supervision of Albert Bandura. I then spent a postdoctoral year at the Psychiatric Institute of the University of Wisconsin Medical School with Carl Rogers as my adviser, following which I became a professor in the clinical psychology PhD program at Teachers College, Columbia University, for eleven years (1961-72). My focus was psychotherapy research and, generally, how people change. During that time, I also served in church callings, including as a bishop in Emerson, New Jersey, counselor to the Eastern States Mission president, and adviser to the LDS Student Association at Columbia. For fifteen interesting years (1957-1972) I engaged in ongoing dialogues and debates with many intellectual Church critics and investigators, which frustrated and enlightened me and them.

I returned to BYU as a professor of psychology in 1972 and embraced opportunities to add research on religion and mental health to my scholarly agenda. This produced controversy, notoriety, and unexpected awards. It fulfilled my longing to integrate a religious perspective with psychological theory and practice. I also served in the church as a bishop, a stake president, and a member of the Sunday School General Board. My life became one of continuing service to others; of obedience to the laws, ordinances, and authorities of the church; and to nurturing Marian and my marriage and our family of nine children. The extended family now numbers about three dozen persons.

Marian, a clinical social worker, and I have both served the public through the practice of psychotherapy. This, in turn, helped us manage our own family problems and crises, of which there have been many. Our hearts are tender toward all people who experience severe stresses (which is most of us), including those who have felt hurt by the church and become estranged from it. We have personally experienced and observed in others the healing effects of competent counsel combined with wise spiritual guidance.

After retirement in 1999, I have done professional writing, missionary work, and, especially, family history and temple service. Marian has been my constant companion, adviser, and compensator for my deficiencies.

Note:
Another essay, “Life and Testimony of an Academic Clinical Psychologist,” gives a more extensive account of my experiences than could be given here. It is available in Susan Easton Black, ed., Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996) and is available online.

References:
A.E. Bergin & S.L.Garfield (eds.) Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change. New York: Wiley, 1971, 1978, 1986, 1994. (A Citation Classic). Fifth Ed. 2004, by M.J. Lambert, Ed.
P.S. Richards & A.E. Bergin. A Spiritual Strategy for Counseling and Psychotherapy. Wash, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1997, 2005.
A.E. Bergin. Eternal Values and Personal Growth. Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2002.

A. Jane Birch:

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my testimony in this forum as it has encouraged me to stop and think carefully about why I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Prophet Joseph Smith. I was born and raised in the LDS Church and have never, not for a moment, considered leaving. But why? What is it about the LDS version of the gospel that has such a hold on me? Why do I resonate with these truths? Why am I willing to devote my entire life to this cause? Why, when I believe my eternal salvation is at stake, is there no doubt or hesitation in committing to this path? Up to this point, I don’t think I had a reason to dig deep for an answer. I was just completely convinced, beyond doubt, that it is true.

As I have considered these questions, I have examined many reasons for my faith, all of which are good and legitimate. This gospel is sound, logical, beautiful, and profound. It bears good fruit, and I feel the witness of the Spirit of its truth. All these, and many more, are reasons to believe, but to believe this passionately? Why do I believe this passionately? Perhaps the simplest answer is this: it fills me with immense joy.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, as it has been taught to me from my youth, has given me, and continues to give me, immense joy. It fills me with feelings, thoughts, and desires that are utterly delicious and soul-satisfying to me. These truths make my spirit sing with joy and thanksgiving. Since before I can remember, I have experienced this joy and have been convinced that it testifies of the truth.

From the time I was very young, I knew God lived, I knew God loved me, and I knew He answered prayers, even if He did not always answer mine. Once, when I was in first or second grade, I stood on a street corner in southern California and prayed to God that He would help me jump higher than it was physically possible for me to jump, just so I would know that He could do it. I prayed very hard and very sincerely, all the while knowing that this was not the type of prayer I should be praying. Sure enough, the experiment failed. I jumped my usual height and no more. But this reinforced the fact that I knew better than to ask that type of thing of God. I think, even at that young age, I appreciated a God who did not show signs simply to satisfy our whimsy. So, while my prayer was not “answered” in the way I asked, this experience confirmed my understanding of a living, loving God who cares about the things that are truly important.

We moved a lot while I was growing up. As a Mormon, I was intensely conscious of being very different than others in the community. I felt I knew some important things that other people did not know. I believed that what I knew about God, and about His restored gospel, obligated me to live my life in a certain way, to follow the Savior and be more like Him. My life was certainly not very Christ-like, but when it was not (as was too frequently the case), I had a keen sense that I knew better, and that I could do better.

I loved learning and I loved school, but I recognized the difference in joy that spiritual learning produced in me over secular learning. I felt keenly aware of the fact that what we learned at school, as useful and as important as it often was, was not based on the premise that God lives, much less that He appeared to Joseph Smith in a grove of trees. Minus that intense joyful foundation of life, I felt that some of what we learned at school was not only less important than what we learned at church, but could also be false, or at least not as true. I kept this in the back of my mind and therefore was somewhat skeptical of secular knowledge, as much as I loved learning of all kinds.

As I finished high school, I eagerly anticipated entering Brigham Young University as a freshman. Having lived outside of Utah for most of my life, I had very little experience with BYU or LDS scholars and could not anticipate what I would experience there. But I was very hopeful because I knew my professors would be both disciples of Christ and competent scholars, and I naively assumed that every professor would be able and eager to help me integrate the joy of spiritual learning with the joy of secular learning. I felt that these joys should not be radically different, that they could be combined to create one beautiful whole.

The diversity of opinion at BYU was a bit of a surprise to me. I was used to diversity of opinion among “non-members,” (after all, they did not have “the truth”). But why were faithful LDS faculty members disagreeing with each other? And why were so many teaching their disciplines as though God’s existence had no impact on it? How could the central, joyful fact of God’s life and God’s love not change everything?

But though I was puzzled why every BYU professor did not make the gospel a central aspect of their search for truth, this disappointment was more than made up for by the number of BYU faculty members I encountered who surpassed my hopes and dreams as role models of faithful LDS scholars. These men and women had a deep, profound, and lasting effect on the development of who I am and how I think, believe, and behave. They helped me to see that the joys I had experienced through the gospel in my youth were only the mere beginnings of all the joy Heavenly Father has in store for us.

I thought I knew a few things about the world, even as a freshman, but I soon learned that I had much to learn, and that learning “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) could lead to new vistas and worlds of understanding that I had never before imagined. In other words, the joy I felt in the gospel, as great as it seemed in my youth, was relatively small compared to the increased measure of joy I felt as I continued to study and learn and grow, both in the gospel and in my understanding of the world around us. And the tutelage of faithful BYU faculty members was central to this growth.

The gospel and this church give me joy and satisfaction in ways that are hard to describe. The gospel is satisfying on so many levels, most of all spiritually, but also intellectually, emotionally, and socially. All my years of academic study continue to teach me that the LDS faith is up to the intellectual task and burden of the ages. Through this gospel, there is no end to the questions that can be pursued, the answers that can be received, the joy that can come from learning and growing and discovering the greatest joys. I see now that this exhilarating learning, this opening to new vistas, can continue forever, and again, it fills me with joy.

So, I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith for many reasons, but the joy that is gives me is the best assurance I have that what I am pursuing is worth every bit of the time, energy, and effort that I have expended and will continue to expend. This joy certainly does not assure me, however, that I have all the truth or that all my present understanding is correct. Not at all. Rather, it assures me that God is faithful and trustworthy, and that if I follow Him, He will correct my misunderstanding, my ignorance, my weakness, and my failings, and through His grace, I can be redeemed from everything that keeps me from Him: “Line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10).

Interestingly, the more I grow in the gospel, the less different I feel I am than every other person who lives or has lived on this earth, no matter what their religion or lack of religion might be. There is so much in the LDS church and this gospel that is uniquely rich and beautiful. I know this is God’s work. But I have long since come to understand that God’s work is not limited to this church. He loves and works with all His children, and just as others may learn some beautiful truths from me, so may I learn some beautiful truths that He has revealed to them.

I appreciate the fact that while my testimony of the gospel has given me precious knowledge and joy, God has showered knowledge and joy on His children in a wide variety of ways, not all of which may appear “religious.” I am much more aware now of the many profound truths that others, not of my faith, have and which I can learn from, and I’m eager to learn these truths. I’m grateful for a God who loves all His children and generously blesses them, as much as they are willing to receive. He is not stingy with joy or with blessings. I am grateful that if we aren’t willing or don’t have an opportunity to learn in one way, He seems willing to teach us in other ways. After all, there is so much to learn and so many ways to develop!

While I believe it is true that others will eventually need to learn the truths I have learned as a Mormon, I believe it is equally true that I will need to learn the things that people not of my faith know in order to become all I can be. I have been given great blessings, but sin, weakness, and the tradition of the fathers blind me and make it impossible for me to enjoy even more of the blessings God has in store for His children. Life-changing, life-altering insights and realizations can come from many places, and when they prove to be good, true, and beautiful, we know their ultimate origin is God. I look forward to the future with great anticipation, knowing that there is even “greater happiness and peace and rest for me” (Abraham 1:2).

In conclusion, I bear testimony of our Savior and His love for all us. I feel the presence of God every day of my life. This reality does not wipe out all my fears or solve my problems, but it remains an anchor to my sanity and the source of my joy. Perhaps the greatest joy we can receive in this life is to understand and embrace the mysteries of God: who He is, who we are, and what we can achieve together through the love and atoning sacrifice of our Savior. “As it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). This is a “joy no [one] taketh from you” (John 16:22).

Davis Bitton:

With the kind permission of his widow, JoAn Bitton, we include, posthumously, something of the testimony of Professor Davis Bitton, an eminent Latter-day Saint historian and a dear friend to many. We are confident that he would have wished to contribute to this “Mormon Scholars Testify” Website.

In 1992, Dr. Bitton circulated this testimony of the Book of Mormon:

The thing that impresses me especially in going through the Book of Mormon this year is its relevance to our times. True, it was read with appreciation by the early converts in the 1830s, who must have found a message for themselves, and by every generation since then. But I find it hard to believe that it has ever spoken more directly to a situation than it does to our own.

Secularism has continued to advance. Religion is a taboo subject in the schools. The airwaves and movies are filled with a message of moral relativism: nothing is really good or bad, and we are out of bounds in judging the behavior or motives or others. Condoms distributed in classrooms. Switchblades and even guns showing up in the possession of even junior high school students. Drugs and sexual license rampant—in the inner cities especially, but also among the yuppies, and tolerated and found to be amusing by the media elite. Concern about moral decline is not new, of course, but never before have converging influences been so powerful and destructive.

The Book of Mormon lets us know what happens when a society loses its moorings, when the primary desires of people are for gain, when anything goes. It is a grim picture, this repeated description of those who persist in living “without God and Christ in the world.”

But of course the Book of Mormon holds out to us “a more excellent way.” Follow the Master, keep the commandments, meet together oft, pray always, have faith, hope, and charity, come unto Christ and be perfected in him—this wonderful gospel message comes across to all who have ears to hear. How grateful we must be if we are among those who still have the capacity to be touched and inspired by this glorious “voice from the dust”!

Davis Bitton passed away on Friday, 13 April 2007. The obituary that appeared in the Deseret Morning News on the following day, prepared by Professor Bitton himself roughly a decade before his passing, captured much about the man:

R. Davis Bitton 1930–2007. I, Ronald Davis Bitton, have moved on to the next stage of existence. As you read this, I am having a ball rejoining my parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and dear friends and associates I knew on earth. I am wide awake, no longer struggling with the narcolepsy that handicapped but did not defeat me, and cheerfully taking in the new state of affairs and accepting the callings that will occupy me there. It has been an abundant life. Growing up in Blackfoot, Idaho, where I was born on 22 February 1930, and on a farm in nearby Groveland, I never felt one moment of familial insecurity. My parents, Ronald Wayne and Lola Davis Bitton, loved me and did everything they could to see that I had opportunities, including piano lessons from age six. I learned to work in the house, in the yard, on the farm, and in local retail stores. I learned to write as a reporter for the Daily Bulletin. I remember enjoying a trip to the San Francisco world’s fair, fishing and hunting trips, scouting camps, and community concerts. I had great friends and was elected to several student offices. I learned to compete in softball and basketball. I joined a crack high school debating team. As a student at Brigham Young University, missionary in France, enlisted man in the U.S. Army, and graduate student at Princeton University, I felt myself growing in understanding. I went on to be a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and, for 29 years, the University of Utah, enjoying many congenial students and colleagues. I have presented papers at scholarly conventions and published articles and books. I have loved good food, good books, the out of doors, music, art, the dappled things. A nurturing home throughout my life has been the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bishops, stake presidents, teachers, mission presidents, and general authorities I have known have been people I could admire and follow. My own opportunities to serve have been numerous, starting at a very young age and including elders quorum president, counselor in a bishopric, member of the stake high council, and gospel doctrine teacher for many years. From 1972 to 1982 I served as assistant church historian. I have loved the hymns, the scriptures, the temple. I am grateful for Aunt Vilate Thiele, my mother’s sister, a steady friend; my other uncles and aunts on both sides; my brother John Boyd Bitton; my sisters Marilyn Bitton Lambson and Elaine Bitton Benson; wonderful nephews and nieces; children Ronald Bitton, Kelly Bitton Burdge, Timothy Bitton, Jill Cochran, Stephanie Ross, Debbie Callahan, Larry Morris, Judy Nauta, Earl Morris, Delbert Morris; their spouses; and 56 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom are to me a delight. Having learned the value of loyalty, I appreciated the affection and interest of my family as well as cherished friends. No one has been more important to me than my dear wife and companion JoAn, a woman loved by all who knew her. She rallied to my side, stood by me through thick and thin, grew with me, laughed with me, made good things happen, and, marvel of marvels, agreed to be my companion through time and all eternity. I have not lived a perfect life, but I have tried. And I know in whom I have trusted.

Susan Easton Black:

“Tell me a story,” I would plead of Grandma as a child. Though I wanted to hear of Cinderella, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty, she would say, “Susan, I can only tell you stories that are true. If you want to hear truth I have something to say.” Not wanting to sleep, I enthusiastically listened to stories of Jesus, the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and those whose sacrifices created our legacy of faith.

Though I believed in the truthfulness of Grandma’s stories, there was one that caused me discomfort. It was of a young pioneer girl named Sarah Ann who was in danger of being trampled by stampeding buffaloes. In this perilous situation she knelt and prayed for protection. “In answer to her prayer,” said my grandmother, “she remained unharmed, even though hundreds of buffalo stampeded around her.” Instead of marveling with wonder at the miracle, I emphatically pronounced, “That’s impossible!” Grandma countered, “It is not impossible to those who have faith. Susan, it was because Sarah Ann had faith and you don’t.”

Such forthrightness caused me to ponder, then and now. I attended Church, paid tithing, and said my prayers, but the essence of faith, the substance of “things which are hoped for and not seen” had eluded me (Ether 12:6). As the years passed my outward demeanor mirrored faith, but my inner faith was lacking. I rationalized faithful events as good fortune, favorable circumstances, and just being “plain lucky.” Would I ever have a faith like Sarah Ann’s?

The answer was slow in coming, but in retrospect paralleled my desire for faith. That desire was ignited my freshman year at Brigham Young University. On a whim, a girlfriend and I decided to spend the weekend in Salt Lake City. While sitting with suitcase in hand at Temple Square, my friend casually remarked, “The President of the Church, David O. McKay, lives just across the street in the Hotel Utah.” Her continual nods of assurance and our curiosity led us to the hotel. Speaking with the bellboy and hotel manager about where the famous resident lived was frustrating. Their refusal to disclose his whereabouts, punctuated with security implications, fell on deaf ears. We left them, determined to answer the question, “If I were a prophet of God, behind which door in this hotel would I choose to live?”

After hours of knocking on doors and greeting blank stares from grumpy hotel guests, we staked out three floors. An innocent chambermaid on one of the floors revealed the answer. Excitedly, we hugged each other as only BYU freshmen can. Our enthusiasm was boundless, until we decided to see if the prophet was home. Being the smaller of the two, I was designated to knock on the door. If the knock was answered, I was programmed to say, “We are selling early orders for Girl Scout cookies; would you care to place an order?”

As I walked toward the door I felt reticent; yet, as my feet faltered and heart pounded, my friend pushed me forward. It wasn’t until I reached the door and was knocking that she ran like a flash of light to the far end of the hall. I was just turning to run when the door opened and before me stood the prophet. He looked surprised but didn’t say anything. Neither did I; I couldn’t. I felt like I had a key to the celestial kingdom but did not belong—I was not worthy to be in his presence. I started to cry and then to sob. He took me by the hand and said, “Won’t you come in?” I waved to my friend down the hall, whose open mouth betrayed her surprise, and entered the prophet’s home. Our discussion remains personal, but the resulting impact of that meeting was to change my inner direction dramatically. I resolved, as never before, not just to mirror faith, but to know of faith, to be faithful like Sarah Ann each day of my life so I would be worthy to see again a prophet, my Savior, and my Father in Heaven.

O that I could say I had always lived up to that resolve. I can echo Nephi in saying, “My heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins” (2 Nephi 4:17-19).

To strengthen my resolve, I consciously determined that I would study in depth the scriptures, doctrinal discourses, early Church records and histories, and biographies of the righteous. I can say with Parley P. Pratt, “I [have] always loved a book. If I worked hard, a book was in my hand in the morning . . . A book at evening; . . . a book at every leisure moment of my life.”1 After decades of reading and reading and reading more I learned: “If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, . . . let this desire work in you” (Alma 32:27). That inner working has now resulted in a knowledge of the great truths about faith. From the scriptures I have learned that “the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him” (1 Nephi 7:12). We must “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6) because “it is by faith that miracles are wrought” (Moroni 7:37). “Jesus [is] the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2); “your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). We all yearn to hear, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (Enos 1:8).

These truths are not new but eternal. The followers of Christ in the meridian of time and the Saints of the latter days made the discovery of these truths years before and lived lives of enduring faith. But I needed to discover those truths anew to reach an understanding of who I am in the eyes of Deity and why Jesus loved me so much he would atone for my sins that I might return to my Father in Heaven.

Helping me in the process of discovering faith have been the journals and histories of early Saints who knew and loved the Prophet Joseph Smith. I stand amazed at their resolve to cling tenaciously to their faith amid the Extermination Order, the Haun’s Mill Massacre, and the prospects of war. It seems to me that they echoed the words of Joshua, that no matter what trial beset them, they resolved, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). For, like Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). And like Joseph Smith, “What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty,” and yes, his faithful Saints, from worshiping him (D&C 121:33).

The names and stories of those who remained faithful and endured in righteousness are not lost. They are told and retold by their thankful posterity from generation to generation. As we remember with gratefulness our legacy, let us recall the faithful declarations of the past. Near Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, Samuel Bent was the object of religious persecution. He was tied to a tree and whipped by a mob, and saw his wife die from the effects of these privations.2 Yet he nobly declared, “[My] faith is as ever and [I feel] to praise God in prisons and in dungeons and in all circumstances whatever [I] may be found.”3

Titus Billings’s escape from mobocracy in Missouri was plagued with starvation and frostbite: “For three days and nights he had only slippery elm bark for food.” His feet were “frozen so badly the flesh came off in pieces.”4 Yet, like Samuel Bent, he praised God for his faith.

When Joseph Smith Sr. was imprisoned for a $14 note of indebtedness against him, he was promised he could go free if he renounced the Book of Mormon. His thoughts turned to the Apostle Paul: “I was not the first man who had been imprisoned for the truth’s sake; and when I should meet Paul in the Paradise of God, I could tell him that I, too, had been in bonds for the Gospel he had preached.”5

Another of those who epitomized the faith I wanted to obtain, a faith like Sarah Ann’s, was John Murdock. At age seventeen John “came near bleeding to death; yea death stared me in the face, but I covenanted with my Heavenly Father that if he would preserve my life, I would serve him.” True to his resolve, John turned to prayer and meditation and began his search for the gospel of Jesus Christ that professed and practiced the ancient ordinances.6 He first united with the Lutheran Dutch Church, but “soon found they did not walk according to the Scriptures.” He next joined the Presbyterian Cedar Church, but he said, “I soon became dissatisfied with their walk, for I saw it was not according to the scriptures.” He then united with the Baptists, but withdrew himself from them when he recognized “their walk not to agree with their profession.”7

Continuing his search for truth, John turned to the Methodist faith, but discovered “when I did not please them I would have to be silent among them awhile.” By 1827 he had joined the Campbellites. “It caused me to rejoice believing that I had at last found a people that believed the Scriptures,” wrote John. For three years he faithfully attended their meetings, but as the ministers denied the “gift and power of the Holy Ghost,” John lost interest and concluded that “all the [religious] Sects were out of the way.”8

Then in the winter of 1830 his prayers were answered. Four missionaries sent to the Lamanites arrived in Kirtland from the state of New York. They preached, baptized, and built up the Lord’s church after the ancient order. Curious, John journeyed twenty miles to see the new preachers for himself and rebuffed a Campbellite who tried to dissuade him. “I told him I was of age, and the case was an important one, of life, and death, existing between me and my God, and I must act for myself, for no one can act for me.”9

He arrived at Isaac Morley’s home in Kirtland about dusk and was introduced to the four men and presented with a copy of the Book of Mormon. He said that as he read the new scripture, “the spirit of the Lord rested on me, witnessing to me of the truth of the work. . . . About ten oclock [the next] morning being Nov 5th, 1830, I told the servants of the Lord that I was ready to walk with them into the water of baptism.”10

John wrote, “This was the third time that I had been immersed, but I never before felt the authority of the ordinance, but I felt it this time and felt as though my sins were forgiven.” After being ordained an elder, he returned home rejoicing and endeavored to bear testimony. To his joy, “my family gladly received me and my words, Thank the Lord.”11

It was John Murdock who, after the death of his wife, gave his surviving twins, Joseph and Julia, to Joseph and Emma Smith to rear. It was John who served a mission with Hyrum Smith to Missouri (D&C 52:8-9). On the trek his feet became wet: “I took a violent cold by which I suffered near unto death. . . . [But] I could not die because my work was not yet done.”12

Truly, it was not complete. The calls of the Lord from his prophets would take him from house to house, from village to village, and from city to city, proclaiming the everlasting gospel to all who would listen, from the eastern United States to Australia. On October 14, 1852, a letter from Brigham Young released John from his final mission: “Return in peace. Your Mission is accomplished and others are on the way to follow up and build upon the foundation which you have laid.”13

Who were those sent to build upon the foundation he laid? Could they include me, if I am faithful “at all times and in all things, and in all places” to the truths I have learned (Mosiah 18:9)? The Saints of yesteryear, when the winds of adversity, the trials of faith, or the Abrahamic test raged and beat upon their houses, stood firm because their foundation was in Christ (see Matthew 7:25). These Saints accepted the name of Christ by baptism and did not allow their faith to be tossed to and fro like the waves of the sea (James 1:6); nor did they stray from the strait and narrow path to the filthy waters or spacious building of Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 8).

They were not like their contemporary Jared Carter, who recognized that “the spirit of God in a measure has left me,” but failed to rectify the problem.14 Nor were they like William McLellin, who maintained his testimony of the Book of Mormon but denied the Lord’s chosen leaders, saying: “When a man goes at the Book of M. he touches the apple of my eye. He fights against truth—against purity—against light—against the purist, or one of the truest, purist books on earth. . . . Fight the wrongs of L.D.S.ism as much as you please, but let that unique, that inimitable book alone.”15

The faithful Saints learned and willingly embraced truth. They did not approach the gospel feast as a smorgasbord, offering a nibble here, a bite there, a taste, a smell, or even a desire to change the recipe. They accepted the gospel harvest as a feast of thanksgiving and embraced the truth as they came unto Christ and partook.

Through faith they had found the passageway to eternal life and clung to the rod of iron amidst the refiner’s fire, the fuller’s soap, and the trials that tested their integrity and tenacity. For them and for thousands and now millions of Latter-day Saints, faith increased to knowledge until they knew in whom they trusted: they knew their Redeemer lived (see Job 19:25).

I need to repeat that remembered legacy of faith. Their external trials of life are obviously different from mine, but my internal resolve must be comparable to theirs. May I forever be grateful to my Father in Heaven for the gospel in its fulness and for the opportunity to read preserved records and to ponder and choose the path of faith. May I endure in righteousness as I nurture my faith and strengthen my resolve to commit myself to a Christlike life. May I choose the path trodden by our faithful forefathers, who knew that yesterday’s faith needed to be nurtured today.

As I partake of the Lord’s supper, his feast, his delicious fruit, my hope of eternal brightness grows as I contemplate an infinite joy with the Saints of the Most High God—Abraham, Joseph Smith, John Murdock, and, yes, I could say with my grandmother, even Sarah Ann.

NOTES
1. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, 6th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), 2.
2. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901-36), 1:368.
3. Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, ed. Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 222.
4. Melvin Billings, comp., “Titus Billings, Early Mormon Pioneer” (n.p., n.d.), 21. In author’s possession.
5. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), 185.
6. Journal of John Murdock [typescript], 3. L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
7. Journal of John Murdock, 5, 7.
8. Journal of John Murdock, 4-5.
9. Journal of John Murdock, 6.
10. Journal of John Murdock, 7.
11. Journal of John Murdock, 7-8.
12. Journal of John Murdock, 10.
13. Reva Baker Holt, “A Brief Synopsis of the Life of John Murdock” (n.p, 1965), 12. In author’s possession.
14. Autobiography of Jared Carter [typescript], 28. Grammar has been standardized. Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
15. Larry C. Porter, “William E. McLellin’s Testimony of the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10, no. 4 (Summer 1970): 486.

Robert W. Blair:

I don’t think that the universe with its billions of galaxies, trillions of stars and planets, and a huge assortment of other objects and phenomena, together with the laws that govern their precise movements, came about by accident. Many scientists conjecture that it all came out of an infinitesimally tiny speck so dense that it contained all that was to become the elements of matter. That out of that submicroscopic particle came all the chemistry and architecture that would make up the earth and the sun and the stars and all the galaxies and all the “dark matter” and “dark energy” of our physical universe. Up to a moment in time—less than fifteen billion years ago—it is assumed by many that there was nothing in the empty infinity of space, nothing in the infinity of time, except for that one incomprehensibly tiny, incredibly dense particle. No sound. No light. No heat. No movement. No change. Only the empty infinity of space, save for that one tiny particle. And of course, as far as can be discovered by empirical means, there was no design or plan or purpose or intelligence behind what was about to happen. How long that single submicroscopic particle existed or how it came to be or what set it in motion is unknown, but according to widely accepted speculation, at one point in time, out of absolute stillness there occurred within that speck a colossal explosion, what is humorously called the “Big Bang,” and out of absolute cold came unimaginable heat, out of darkness came light, out of that dense, inert speck came all that would become the physical universe, all that would became “nature,” including the invisible “dark energy” and “dark matter” that are said to constitute a large percentage of the universe.

Such, as I understand it, is one well-respected speculation of the beginning of the physical universe. But what is even more puzzling and marvelous is the transition from the most primitive inorganic stuff to organic stuff, living matter. Or let me put it this way: the transition over many billions of years from when there was no living matter, no DNA, no heart or womb, down to when the first heart began to pump blood; from when there was no male or female, no egg or sperm, to when there was the first conception; from when there was no brain that could process language and enable infinitely varied speech, no mind to create art or music or poetry—to when these emerged in human kind on this earth not that long ago.

I have negligible training in the physical sciences, but I am fascinated by the discoveries brought about over past centuries thanks to the invention of precision instruments along with meticulous calculations and bold reasoning. I am also aware that some of these discoveries have had to be modified, reinterpreted or retracted multiple times, and I expect that future discoveries and recalculations may well require revision of current explanations of things.

I hold in awe the advance of science and technology while at the same time I believe there is much in the universe that is forever beyond the reach of empirical science. I do not leave divine purpose and divine intelligence out of the equation. I am a believer in Holy Scriptures in which many realities or truths beyond the reach of science have been revealed to Man. I am a believer that, in a way far beyond Man’s ability to comprehend, the universe was organized and is governed by that Supreme Being we call God. How the world was created, whether or not it simply evolved uncontrolled since that “Big Bang,” I cannot speculate, but I ask myself important questions that science cannot address: Was this earth created for a purpose? If so, for what? What is MY life’s purpose? When I die, does my soul, the living spirit within me, continue living in another sphere? Does time stretch into eternity for ME? Did my personal history begin only at my birth? What should I make of my life, and why?

Philosophers may address these questions, but how am I to trust human reasoning about these and other all-important questions? To what or to whom can I turn to find answers to these questions—not just satisfying or comforting answers, but TRUE answers? God’s answers?

I am uplifted by God’s revelation of his purpose in Creation, recorded in sacred scripture: “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of Man.” This tells me that although I am but a minuscule speck in the infinite universe, and my lifetime but a minuscule moment in eternity, I somehow fit into God’s purposes. I accept the truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures, that the Creator of this world is the father of my spirit, and that I am here of my own free will and choice to be tried and tested to see what I would do with my life when I have to go on faith. I believe that life is a time of learning and growth. I believe I am accountable for my life, accountable for my decisions and thoughts and intentions and actions, accountable to my Father in Heaven.

A bit of background. My name is Robert Wallace Blair. I was born in California in 1930, the son of parents whose ancestors two generations before chose to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mother being a high school Spanish teacher, our home was blessed with appreciation for speakers of foreign languages. For most of my eighty years I have probed into the fascinating world of language and languages. Before entering graduate school at Indiana University, I had studied Latin, French, Russian, Finnish, Hebrew, Arabic, German, Gothic, and Old and Middle English. As a doctoral student, I focused on two languages of the Americas, Quechua and Maya, and for my doctoral dissertation I wrote a structural grammar of the latter. Over the following years I engaged in intensive study and description of “exotic” languages, including Chinese, Guaraní, Cakchiquel, and Navajo. After retiring from the BYU Linguistics Department in 1998 I devoted much time to designing language courses for primary and secondary school students. Between 1975 and 2003, my wife and I lived half a year in Guatemala, half a year in Russia, five years in China, and three years in the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania).

What have I learned from these language-related experiences? For one thing, I stand in awe of the capacity infants have to acquire a language. Living beings from ants to elephants come into the world with an innate bioprogram that equips them with faculties of communication sufficient for their needs. But human babies come into the world with far more. Human babies come into the world with an innate bioprogram than enables them to acquire language, and with it, cognition and communication faculties far beyond those of animals. Just as birds are genetically programmed to fly and fish are genetically programmed to swim, so humans are genetically programmed to learn to communicate and interpret the world with the aid of very complex language.

A newborn’s brain is not, I believe, a tabula rasa. It is more than just grey matter predisposed to learn language by responding to external stimuli together with positive and negative reinforcement. I believe a newborn’s brain is “wired” no more for nursing, crying, and vocalizing than for acquiring language. Many scholars believe, as do I, that its tiny brain contains something like a blueprint of language—not a specific lexicon or grammar, of course, but of language universals, features shared among all languages, features that, given adequate time and environmental conditions, enable language acquisition to happen. Activation of these universals, and creative building upon them, of course, requires, among other things, input from their environment over months and years, but what the nature of that input is, and what the child does with it, is not what one might suppose.

The acquisition of our first language does not come by repetition of word and sentence models, nor is it guided much by corrections from caregivers. Learning to speak proceeds more by creative experimentation than by imitation or repetition. Let me put that in other words: I believe that language acquisition proceeds largely as a creative process, building on the bioprogram, discovering how to make use of the tongue and lips, the lungs and diaphram, the oral and nasal cavities, the glottis, velum, and other parts of the vocal mechanism to modulate sound vibrations, then discovering how to correlate certain of those vibrations with meaning. Also, of course, how to make sense of vocal sound vibrations that enter its ears, roughly correlating those with sounds it discovers it can produce with its own vocal mechanisms. Correlating vocal sounds and rapid-changing articulations with meaning is no easy task. Surely that creative discovery is motivated to a great extent by social interaction, but much of the learning takes place out of view and out of hearing, normally before a child is three years old.

For me, the awesome marvel that appears to have occurred with and following the “Big Bang” is no more awesome than the marvel that occurs regularly in the human species, the marvel of language acquisition, the emergence of language in very young children. I’m struck by the hyperbolic statement of Derek Bickerton in his book The Roots of Language: “The consummate miracle of the universe is a baby acquiring language.”

In a story set in ancient Mesopotamia before writing was invented, a father challenges his son Kish to count the stars, name each one, and map the night sky. The boy soon finds it is an impossible task, but after a frustrating beginning, he combines some of the more prominent stars into constellations and makes up a story for each of those. This enables him to make a rough map of the vast chaos overhead. I compare Kish’s impossible task to the equally impossible task of a baby’s acquiring language. Despite limited cognition, limited memory, limited logic, every normal child succeeds in acquiring speech and the ability to make sense of others’ speech. I shake my head and ask: How is it done?

I am inspired by the story of the deaf and blind child Helen Keller, who, despite her extreme handicaps, mastered English and even learned to read classical literature in German, French, and Latin. Her breakthrough into language—in my mind reminiscent of the “Big Bang” —came when, at the age of seven, one day she suddenly discovered that things like water and leaf, and concepts like love and good and new, have names. From that wonder-filled day in her eighth year of life, she went about connecting word signs conveyed by hand touch to things and concepts, and suddenly a marvelous world opened up to her, a world mediated through language. In her autobiography The Story of My Life, on page 43, Helen wrote of her teacher Annie Sullivan: “Everything Miss Sullivan taught me she illustrated by a beautiful story.” I try to imagine how her teacher taught her through stories in sign language, but I think that for Helen, as for Kish, stories helped her penetrate the unknown and give order to the world she experienced without hearing or sight.

As I ponder the physical universe, I try in vain to conceptualize its beginnings and its processes in unending space and time. And as I ponder the universe of language and languages that I have experienced, their incredibly varied structure, their acquisition and use, I am equally at a loss to explain what undeniably presents itself before me.

My conclusion is that if I can accept such realities as these even though I cannot comprehend them, then, where there is sufficient evidence, I can accept spiritual realities, unseen realities that are beyond my understanding. So what is “sufficient evidence?” I recognize that throughout much of my life I have personally experienced sufficient evidence so that I accept that there is an almighty Ruler of the universe, the Creator of all things and the Spiritual Father of us all. With that, I accept the universal brotherhood of Man and realize that I have a stewardship in this life that extends beyond myself: it extends to my wife and family and to my ancestors and progeny as well as to all humankind, insofar as I can reach out to them.

In worshiping a Heavenly Father who is concerned with my life as well as with that of all His children past, present, and future, I accept that his counsels and commandments, given through ancient as well as modern, even living, prophets, are part of God’s Plan for his children. I accept that He sent his son Jesus Christ as our Savior to reveal God’s nature and almighty power, to establish a church and divinely guided priesthood, to teach and show us the way to heaven, to open the way for redemption from sin, and to provide resurrection and everlasting life for all. I accept that the church and its leadership, which Jesus Christ set up, over time deviated in teaching and practice, with the result that it lost God’s favor. I accept that Martin Luther and other reformers, relying on their interpretations of the Bible but lacking direct revelation from God, did all they could to reform the church. I accept that Christ’s true church and priesthood authority was at last restored in 1830 by direct revelation from God to a living prophet. I accept the Bible as containing sacred history; I also accept the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ, witnessing to his divine mission and complementing the Bible in teaching the way to eternal salvation.

I know that some would say to me: Show me a sign, give me incontrovertible evidence, scientific proof. Only then will I consider accepting what you accept on faith. I can only reply that the witness of the Holy Spirit is a product of faith. As to receiving answers to life’s most pressing questions, I am not dependent on my own or anyone else’s philosophical reasoning or interpretations. What I have myself seen and experienced in the spiritual realm affirms my faith. It invites me to live a consecrated life and gives me hope for the resurrection, hope for life eternal with my wife and loved ones in God’s presence. This is at least as substantive to me as are realities of the physical world that are far beyond my understanding, or the realities of language acquisition that are equally far beyond my comprehension.

Dwight M. Blood:

I was born a Mormon boy and during my nearly eight decades of life have never seen any reason not to die a Mormon man. I was also a farm boy, raised on an irrigated sugar beet and alfalfa hay farm in the small Penrose valley in northwest Wyoming, midway between the towns of Lovell and Powell. I was a child of the Great Depression, born in 1932, and my life was forever tinged, touched, and shaped by the influences of that troubled decade as I became increasingly aware over my lifetime of the desperation and perseverance that characterized the lives of my parents in struggling to survive those dark years of privation. And then I was a child born of a pioneer heritage, as my mother’s forebears and, later, my wife’s forebears were numbered among those courageous persons and families who gave up everything they had, including their families, to make the treacherous journeys from their home countries to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake and then to the sagebrush covered deserts waiting to be converted into farmland in northwest Wyoming.

The foundations of my faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints originate in those early life experiences. A one-room church meetinghouse was built in our little valley from lumber which came from a logjam on the Shoshone River near our home. My grandfather grew up in Scipio, Utah, and learned to drive mule trains to the gold camps in Nevada, and then was road foreman on many of the early roads in Yellowstone Park. He was branch president, and then bishop, of the Penrose Branch and then Penrose Ward for thirteen years. He had a third grade education, but became self-educated over the course of his life. One summer, when I was in college, grandpa asked me what I was reading. I told him I had just finished a graduate course in the diplomatic history of the U.S. He asked if he could borrow the book. I gave it to him and the next time I saw him he said, “Well they got most of it right, but not everything.”

As a boy, I came under his strong influence as I was privileged to work with him many long days on the farm. He talked continuously about his faith, about hard work, about Teddy Roosevelt, and about The Little Engine that Could. He was a scripture scholar, and could debate ministers under the table. Thus, without really realizing what was happening because of my youth, my own character, beliefs, and future were being shaped while we were setting cottonwood fenceposts, hauling hay, stretching fence, cleaning ditches, and driving a team of horses. At the time, I always wondered why we had to haul the biggest cottonwood post we could find a half mile to the head of the canal; why not make a smaller one do? Doing less than the best was never his way, as he used his limited resources to shape his farmstead into one of the most efficient farmsteads possible, though constructed of poles, gumbo soil roofs, and cast off slabs and lumber.

My dad had only a ninth grade education, though he was always a reader. He was gone from home seeking work a good deal of the time during the first ten of the sixteen years I spent at home. From him I learned the lessons of perseverance and hard work, and the dream to be creative and follow in his footsteps as a consummate artist who could fashion intricate designs into inlaid pictures (marquetry). I never made the leap to master marquetry, but I try hard to capture nature in all its beauty through photography and to use words to write about life and the world we live in. I learned only late in life, as I studied the financial account books of those early years of my life, just how tenuous economic survival was for my parents, and came to appreciate even more my dad’s capacity for hard work and his willingness to sacrifice all of his energy and limited resources for the benefit of his family.

My mother was a relatively quiet but unmistakably strong and undeviating force in our lives. As a young woman, she was one of the few girls in that area ever to venture as far as the University of Wyoming, over four hundred miles to the south, where she completed two years of school, became an elementary school teacher, and then raised her family. After her children were raised, she persevered once more and completed her bachelor’s degree at the age of 57, and taught elementary school until she retired. Her influence as a teacher and moral compass in our lives was subtle, but never wavering.

I spend this time on my heritage because the combined themes of pioneering, enduring under the most difficult of circumstances, hard work, doing the best that you can, and education became the guiding lights that influenced my life. I grew up thinking that if you worked hard enough, and learned enough, and had some sense of direction in your life, you could do about anything that you tried to do.

It was with this sense of feeling that I was learning something about life and the world I lived in that I spent the summer of my fourteenth year on a quest for learning. First of all, I figured that if the Prophet Joseph Smith could accomplish so much as a young farm boy, the least I could do was to read the Book of Mormon. So I did, from cover to cover, in between loads of hay and rows of sugar beets. So then, the question was, what about this story the young boy told about personages who appeared to him in a grove of trees? And did Joseph really see the Father and His Son Jesus Christ? And how could this untutored young farm boy have learned enough to compile the Book of Mormon without some extraordinary intervention of divinity? I liked the fact that Joseph Smith was a farm boy, that at the same age I then was, he had experienced this incredible light and these personages from the heavens that ultimately would change and influence the lives of millions of people. I have read the Book of Mormon many times since, but never once could I begin to recapture my feelings of wonder and transformation that occurred on that first passage through the pages of this book.

Forever after, I marveled at how these humble but profound beginnings would lead people from the far corners of the earth to forsake families after being forsaken by them, to give up all worldly resources and risk death and privation and persecution to answer and to give credibility to the testimonies of their heart and soul. I thought so many times why would church leaders like my grandfather and church members like my family feel that their testimonies were so powerful that they were willing to sacrifice everything to be faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? What motivated my grandfather, ill with malaria and ordered by his mission president in Florida to go home during the Spanish-American War, to tell his mission president that “if I go home, I will go home in a box”?

After reading the Book of Mormon that summer, I then read The Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage, in order to try to make sure that I could understand enough to ensure that I had a firm belief in the truth of what I had been studying. My summer readings concluded with A Voice of Warning, by Parley P. Pratt, a small book that I borrowed permanently from the Penrose Ward church library. I carried the book around in my jeans pocket as I drove tractor, drove team, hauled hay, and did chores during my fourteenth summer, until it became bent in the middle and sweat stained. I have that book still today.

For me, after that summer, being a Mormon came down simply to believing the story of the boy in the grove of trees and then believing the story of the young man with the book and everything that went with these two stories. That was it: a boy in a grove of trees who saw a pillar of light with the Father and the Son and was given some instructions, and a young man with a book. Either Joseph Smith saw the vision he said he saw in the forest, and translated the Book of Mormon in the way that he said he did, or he didn’t. My experience that summer convinced me that everything happened just the way Joseph said it happened.

I have since likened my testimony to the rings in a cross section of a tree trunk. I didn’t think that my testimony was ever a fixed entity, but that it began in unformed pieces and then grew, became refined, became fine-tuned over my life. But the core of the tree, the foundation of everything else, was the boy and the grove and the young man and the book.

Church for me as a youth meant attending at the Powell WY Oddfellows Hall, a small white stucco building that is still standing. Our bishopric was a weathered trio of hard-scrabble sugar beet farmers with limited educations. We boys liked to march around the room and salute the picture of General McArthur hanging on the wall during WWII. But I remember the bishop telling me, “Now Dewite,” as he called me, “I want you to remember about your tithing.” It was there that I advanced from deacon to teacher to priest. It was there that I memorized and recited the testimonies of the three witnesses and again of the eight witnesses. It was there that I first passed the sacrament and gave numerous two and one half minute talks. No frills that are evident in a modern LDS meetinghouse were necessary to augment my faith. I grew up without seminary and without MIA, which certainly would have been welcome. My mission age came during that window of time when the Korean War prevented LDS boys from being sent on missions. But my faith was nurtured by some hard working farmers who cleaned up on Saturday nights and their families and by a few town people who met to worship in a building in which we had to sweep up cigarette butts before church. I was one of three LDS students in my high school graduating class in 1949.

Before I left home just after my seventeenth birthday, I received my patriarchal blessing. The main sentence in that blessing that has stuck with me all my life was the admonition to always “let my sermons of precept match the testimony of my lips.” Since then, I have always thought that the eloquence of verbal and written testimonies can be influential but, perhaps, our testimonies of deeds, of actions, must match those testimonies or they are meaningless. And sometimes I watched as wordless deeds and actions exemplifying works of faith and testimony spoke eloquent messages about the true meaning of testimony.

The next step in my testimony building (the next ring in my tree) came from four years of attending the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Wyoming. There I found fellowship with many young people like myself who received not a farthing from home and were working nights and days and attending class in between to get through college. Out of that hard-scrabble group of Mormon kids came Ph.D.s, physicians, dentists, teachers, ranchers, professors, and numerous other professional careers. Thus the question: From whence did this passionate search for knowledge and advancement come, when so many came from homes with little education and sometimes even little encouragement to attend college? There were, of course, guardian angels along the way. Teachers who saw our potential and told us what we could and should become. Parents who never gave up on us even though they couldn’t help us financially. An LDS Institute director and a ward bishop who took us under their wings. Oh, yes, and then there was a little blonde Mormon girl with strong beliefs and a clear definition of what her life was to become. And, as a result, my life was never the same thereafter.

So we have a foundation to our testimonies, but then the testimony grows in numerous and, sometimes, unpredictable ways: a branch here, a sprout there, an insight and flash of light somewhere else. But these changes were always additions to, not detractions from, the original core of beliefs at the center of our religious universe.

A strong enough foundation existed so that I proceeded to embark on what seemingly would have been an impossible journey when viewed through a forward look at what might happen in my life. A master’s degree from Montana State, teaching large sections of college students at the age of twenty-one (soon to be twenty-two), admission to the doctoral program in economics at the University of Michigan at the age of twenty-four. I’ll never forget my experience of first setting foot on the Michigan campus, walking past the iconic carillon tower, and asking myself what a poor Mormon boy like me was doing in this great institution, with a wife and two children, one of whom was a two-week old baby, a tiny little assistantship and, as of that day, no place to live. Who said I could do this? Well, not directly, but indirectly, my grandfather, my dad, my mom, my wife, my boyhood bishop who wanted to be sure I paid my tithing, and my own inward sense that overpowered everything, that told me that what I was doing was right, and that I could do it.

From there, I was one of only half of our starting Ph.D. class to pass prelims and then complete my degree, passing German by 1/6 of a point—surely a gift from somewhere. My forty-five-year career in teaching and research led me to Penn State, back home to the University of Wyoming, to Colorado State University and, finally, to Brigham Young University. I had a brief three-year stint as director of research for the Wyoming Legislature, and a less-than-one-year appointment as fiscal economist in the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. My career began as a hybrid economist/agricultural economist during the first part of my career, so the bulk of my early research was focused on natural resources, travel market analysis, transportation policy, inland waterways, outdoor recreation, and similar areas. My career then centered more on being a teacher rather than becoming a heavily-published scholar. My life was books, classes, and students, perhaps over 20,000 of them during my decades of teaching. I tried to teach by example more than words.

Out of all of these years, all of these decades of writing and giving lectures, teaching, reading, interacting with students and colleagues, I never found a reason to doubt the core of my beliefs. During my years out in the “mission field,” as we used to say in days of yore, the usual questions and occasional attempts to disparage occurred. But, for the most part, my minority status as a Mormon was never an issue. I have my doubts that I really could be classed as a scholar in the conventional sense of one who has written and published numerous books and monographs and has become a legend in his or her field. I’m not sure why my life centered largely on becoming a teacher, and focusing on heavy teaching schedules, often taking on extra class sections just because I liked to do it and thought the class needed to be taught. But I think I gravitated to what I did best, and my aim was to make a difference in students’ lives.

The rings in my tree stump cross section grew outward as I taught Gospel Doctrine classes for over twenty years and high priests classes for at least fifteen years. I served on a high council and a district council, and in a bishopric. I survived a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in my forties, and remember that, the first Sunday that I went back to church after my diagnosis, we were singing the words “When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us, and threaten our peace to destroy, there is hope shining brightly before us, and we know that deliverance is nigh.” Those words became my beacon, my light, as I was miraculously spared further attacks of that debilitating disease.

Which brings me to my current status in life. At seventy-eight, I find reassurance and confirmation in my boyhood beliefs all around me. I find this reassurance among old people who support and help each other through their ultimate and sometimes final trials. I find confirmation in the service of people like my sister who, a Relief Society president, works with more than twenty women over eighty years old who all need transportation and assistance, when she herself is far from being young and in ideal health. I see the blessings of my wife’s child-rearing skills as I see my children become bishops and Relief Society president and hold many other positions of church leadership. I think back to that first day at Michigan, wondering what a sugar beet farmer from Penrose, Wyoming, was doing at this famous institution and how I ever thought I had what it would take to complete a Ph.D. there. I watch people around me share the light of their lives as they give to others in remarkable and unselfish service both through the church and through the community. I thought of testimony and compassionate service the day my wife sent me up to the church with a casserole for a funeral dinner for someone not even in our congregation and whom no one knew, and watched as an army of women came from cars bearing food. I think of my three sons, who served in three of the most difficult missions in the world and may never have seen a baptism but whose exemplary lives to this day are testimonies of the worth of what they were called to do. I think of my grandchildren, who postpone college careers to go to the far corners of the country and of the world because they have an inward sense of direction that they are going where they are being led. Where did all of these manifestations and accomplishments and this ability to withstand trials come from? I think we all know the answers, though some of us are less articulate in expressing them than others. It all started with a boy who saw a light and two personages in a grove, and then, through divine intervention, gave us a book that would forever give us a testimony and a foundation of belief in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost—a testimony that would never leave us.

David Earl Bohn:

I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the restoration of its fullness in our day, and in the central role the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plays in proclaiming the “good news.” Even as a child, I did not see the practices and beliefs that constitute Mormonism as an imposition, but as the unfolding of “who I was” in the meaningful and purposeful World that God created for all of his children. The gospel was an invitation for me to fulfill my potential.

The Roots of My Childhood

My mother and father were only a generation removed from the pioneers who journeyed across the vast plains of America’s heartland to settle in the valleys of the Mountain West. After my father graduated from the George Washington University Law School, the Great Depression drew my parents back to Utah, where he was fortunate to find work in a number of legal capacities in the Southern part of the state. Shortly after my birth, in the midst of World War II, my father was appointed to the Utah Juvenile Court, and our family relocated to Ogden, Utah.

It was in Ogden that I first gained a sense of my life’s journey and the rich connections that linked my personal world to the larger space of family, church, community, nation, and more. I came to see the roots of my testimony not as something external or foreign, but as the foundation that had always been a part of who I was and am. The Gospel and its claims on my life during my adolescence opened up before me a meaningful future in a world that harbored the promise of great good alongside the dangers posed by negative and destructive behavior. I felt protected from these dangers by the warmth and safety of a secure home and the acceptance of a loving family.

I vividly recall the abundance I sensed, as the family kneeled around my parents’ large bed to offer thanks to the Lord. My parents’ prayers so pervasively evoked the presence of the living God that I could not imagine life without the power and peaceful assurance of this loving relationship. To diminish this experience by placing it at a distance or examining it as some kind of foreign object subject to question, had it occurred to me at all, would have seemed a betrayal. There was nothing outwardly unusual about these prayers, but they had a quiet and simple power that revealed the deep trust and gratitude my parents felt and were infused by the Holy Spirit, which witnessed God’s pleasure at their words. This experience engaged something central in my being. Even as an adolescent when I sometimes pretended fall asleep due to the prayer’s “undue” length, I could not pretend that my heart had not been touched.

Ogden, Utah, was a unique place to grow up. World War II brought a number of critical defense emplacements to the area along with a work force drawn from around the country. This supplemented the diversity of the city that already included the largest Hispanic and African-American populations in the state. While most people belonged to the Church, there were still many Catholics, a diversity of Protestants, a notable Jewish and non-Christian presence, and some who remained non-religious by choice or circumstance.

Although I had neighborhood friends who were of other faiths, in most respects their manner of living differed little from mine. In high school, the differences were more evident, but did not have much influence on my views. Like many at that age, the challenges of growing up seemed all-consuming and involved regrettable choices in conflict with my beliefs and commitments. It was in the gulf of these contradictions that I came to understand how my personal vulnerabilities could place at a greater distance the truths I had learned as a child. Fortunately, the steadfastness of a few friends and the unrelenting support of my parents drew me beyond this gulf. In every respect, my parents were followers of Christ. My mother’s conviction and loyalty and my father’s patience and gentle goodness helped me leave behind the distractions and accept a mission call to France where my life and future came together in a tangible and positive way.

My Mission Experience

My missionary service opened up a new chapter in my life, one filled with countless blessings and a challenge to become more than I was. I learned that genuine tolerance was not to be confused with the bland sort of relativity that sees everything an individual sincerely believes in as personal or private and possibly true. Most of all, I learned how far I need come in order to stand in a proper relation to my Father in Heaven.

After landing at Orly Airport in Paris, the incoming group of missionaries I arrived with excitedly jumped into the small Volkswagen Vanagon that awaited us and were driven to the mission home in the center of Paris. My senses were alive with the sites and sensations of this extraordinary city so far removed from my everyday world. The mission president, Rulon T. Hinckley, invited us into the mission home and held a brief meeting. President Hinckley was a short, sturdy man who radiated good will.

Despite his ordinary manner, I would come to learn that he was an individual of extraordinary spiritual power. In his sixties, President Hinckley was more than forty years removed from his own French-speaking mission and now spoke only rudimentary French at best. It was inspiring to see how the French members, normally demanding about proper French usage, would wait patiently to hear him speak. No matter how eloquent the other speakers at district conferences might be, members came to hear President Hinckley. A spirit of warmth, goodness, and certainty would radiate across the hall when he rose to the podium to bear testimony of the Restored Gospel in his broken and sometimes halting French. His words held genuine power and all who listened left filled with hope.

In contrast, during a short testimony meeting that President Hinckley held for us on that first day in the mission home, I safely and politely said that “I believed in the Gospel and hoped to one day know that it was true.” In the years since, I still distinctly remember the sense of having shared less than the light I had been granted in order to portray myself in a more “sophisticated” light. The rest of my mission, fortunately, provided me with abundant opportunities to share that light, many of them intensely personal. One in particular stands out. My companion and I were tracting on the outskirts of Paris in one of the many “cités” constructed after World War II. This was prior to the creation of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, so I had just begun learning French. It was my turn to take a door. I rang, waited, and rang again. A middle-aged man opened the door, listened patiently to our initial greeting, and invited us in.

The man kindly told us that we were too late; for years, he had sought religious truth, examining all of the major belief systems, but he had since renounced the search and resigned himself to a future of doubt. Nonetheless, the man politely allowed me to share the story of Joseph Smith. As I began to recount the events leading up to the First Vision, I recognized an earnest sincerity in the man’s eyes and felt a wave of peace rush over me. The account of Joseph’s search for truth seemed to flow seamlessly—from the discouragement Joseph felt in his search for the true faith to his decision to follow the admonition of James ask of God—and I felt a warmth and power testify of the truth of the words I spoke and envelop us both. Learning of the appearance of God the Father and his Son to a young farm boy seeking answers in a secluded grove clearly moved this humble man. To this I added my conviction that this had in fact occurred; then I requested the opportunity to return and meet with him again.

During a long period of silence, this man tried to process all that he had been told. Finally, looking down, he quietly said that he could not revisit the question—that he had moved on with his life. I urged him to consider the truths I had shared as an answer to his life-long search for the true and living God. After another long silence, he took a deep breath, thanked us for our visit and showed us out. Although this man had not opened himself up to our message that day, I nevertheless recognized that I had been a literal conduit for the Holy Spirit’s witness of the restoration. I was humbled and grateful, but also saddened at the irony of the situation: after searching for religious understanding for so long, this man appeared to close the door just as the answer had come.

Family and the Pursuit of an Authentic Life

Following my mission, I received undergraduate degrees in History and Political Science, married my beautiful wife, and moved to New York City to pursue a graduate degree at Columbia University. I eventually graduated with a PhD in Political Science, focusing primarily on theory and political thought. Initially I focused more on the empirical and normative character of my interests in history, politics, and philosophy, but I later felt drawn to more purely philosophical issues. I wondered about the status of various way of making sense of “the world,” how they might be grounded, and what the limits and possibilities of such ways of thinking might be. Increasingly meaning, and the various ways language gets used to constitute meaning, seemed at the heart of these questions.

I had been warned by many people of faith that such concerns harbored dangers and that philosophy had become an enemy to religious belief and should be avoided. While I agreed that “intellectual life” in general and philosophy in particular could never be a substitute for the deeper witness of the Restored Gospel I had always experienced, I valued those approaches to philosophy that sought to ground the various ways in which language gets used to constitute meaning. Here, philosophy had more often than not undermined the claims of a whole range of secular religions (versions of reality) that seemed to advance themselves without proper foundation.

Upon graduating, my immediate preoccupation was finding a job that would allow me both to support my family and to reflect on the religious and philosophical issues so central to my interests. I was fortunate to find a position with Brigham Young University’s Department of Political Science, which provided me the opportunity to teach courses in political theory and political philosophy, while also helping students to navigate difficult philosophical concepts from a religious perspective. The thirty-five years I went on to spend at BYU only served to deepen my religious convictions, from both an intellectual and a spiritual perspective. I owe a great debt to many with whom I fellowshipped along the way, including colleagues who shared similar interests (such as Louis Midgley, Don Sorenson, Jim Faulconer, and Ralph Hancock, among others), friends who pursued different intellectual passions but who still contributed greatly to my understanding through our common bonds in the Gospel, and the countless students I was blessed to teach or otherwise work with.

The Artificial Divide Between the Religious and the Academic

From the beginning of my career, I was excited at the possibility of exploring all subjects of interest, unrestricted by what I considered an artificial boundary separating religious and moral understanding from secular research and writing. My religious heritage was always the larger whole within which everything else in my academic and personal life found meaning and purpose. For these and other reasons, it is not surprising that after working at BYU for ten years, I found myself increasingly involved in seeking to bring into better view the limits inherent in the social sciences and humanities and their attempts to account for the “nature of things,” in particular the possible ways in which they retrieved the meaning of my religious heritage. I would discover that despite the diversion of legitimating appeals to objectivity and neutrality, most such approaches were ungrounded and some were little more than intellectual ideologies whose tenets were advanced as self-evident.

Even more troubling was the unexamined acceptance of a seemingly insuperable divide between what were termed “faith” and “reason,” “morality” and “science,” “facts” and “values”—an assumption that exuded an absolutism akin to some interpretations of the separation of church and state. Unfortunately, in this uneven divide, genuine religious understanding had been marginalized and characterized as little more than interesting fantasies: While “doubt” was elevated to a cardinal intellectual virtue, “belief” was increasingly relegated to the domain of the naive.

Over my next twenty-five years at BYU, it became increasingly evident that the meaning of “Mormonism,” in its past, present, and future possibilities, was in the process of being fundamentally redefined according to different interpretive categories, including some that undermined the self-understanding of believing Latter-day Saints. In a host of articles and discussions that followed—and alongside Don Sorenson, Louis Midgley, and many others—I sought to bring into the open the unclaimed limits of certain interpretations, revealing why they could not displace the more original self-understanding of the faithful.

While I view this ongoing discussion as important, I do not believe that testimonies depend on or are secured by such discussion. Even as a youth, I always understood that assuming a faithful relationship to the revealing power of the Spirit involved more than an abstract desire to “know the truth,” which in itself could only be a rather empty and abstract exercise. To stand in a relationship of faith involves the inherently moral imperative to “live the truth.” As our conviction of the truth of the Restored Gospel is enriched and becomes more deeply rooted, it cannot be separated from our willingness to be guided by the moral claim these convictions exert on the concrete possibilities that ceaselessly unfold before us.

The Invitation of the Gospel

As I look back on my life, I recognize that, when I have fallen short in what God has required of me, my testimony of the Gospel remained but seemed more remote; whereas, when I have overcome difficulties and risen to life’s challenges, my conviction of the Gospel has grown, much as a living truth that continuously fills my being and invites me to become more than I am.

I believe that, at its root, the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an invitation to become more than we are, to leave behind all encumbrances and become new creatures in Christ. It is an invitation to move beyond understanding truth as a mere abstraction and toward a life that embodies the good and the true in both thought and deed—one made holy by the Spirit and renewed by the atonement of God’s Son.

Duance Boyce:

Just as our eyes and ears can be saturated in physical sights and sounds, so our souls can be immersed in the pure intelligence of the Spirit. The first, for the most part, teach us of the things of the world; the second, the things of eternity. The confirmation of the Spirit is also far more certain than the testimony of the physical senses. It is surprising—but I have discovered it to be true—that we can know eternal things through the Spirit better than we know mortal things through the physical senses.

It is in this way that I know that we do indeed have a Father in Heaven, that we have a Savior who is Jesus Christ, that the fullness of the gospel was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that the Lord directs His Church through living prophets.

These are the core truths of the gospel and I know of their reality better, literally, than I know anything else—more certainly, for example, than I know that I am sitting in a chair penning these words on a wintry Sunday morning.

Born of this knowledge is a profound gratitude for the Church established by the Lord. I don’t feel I’m good enough for the Church, its leaders, and its members, but as long as they are willing to have me, I’m in.

A Thought or Two on Scholarship

My scholarly attainments are modest, but I have enough experience to have developed a number of convictions about the relationship between academic and gospel study. Here are four of them:

First, both are pursuits of the truth. At this level of abstraction they are identical.

Second, I believe I should pursue both as a way of honoring God. That seems to me true of every conceivable worthy task, and no less of intellectual study. In my best moments I find myself drenched with the desire to do nothing but please the Lord. My quest is to make all my moments these moments.

Third, as pursuits of the truth, both academic and gospel study impose on me the same requirements. These include (1) critical, sound reasoning, (2) painstaking effort, and (3) a fundamental attitude of humility.

The need for sound reasoning and diligent effort may be obvious, but I believe that no less required is a spirit of humility. Nothing impedes our understanding of the world, or of the gospel, quite as thoroughly as a dogmatic insistence on whatever understanding we think we possess at the moment. On the contrary, in both scientific and gospel scholarship (beyond the core truths of the gospel and the official teachings of the prophets) there is profound reason for a lingering tentativeness about many of the ideas we hold at any one time. Whatever my intellectual convictions, I know they are beholden to a complex, intricate, and hidden web of assumptions, preconceptions, and predispositions that I do not even recognize, much less comprehend, however hard I might try to do so. How can I pretend certainty in my vast array of beliefs in the face of this reality of intellectual life?

For this reason, no matter how much I think I understand, I believe it best to live with the expectation that I will turn out in the end to have been wrong on an endless host of matters. This is inevitable, and it is both futile and unwise to imagine otherwise.

The proper scholarly attitude, as I see it then, can hardly be one of defensiveness or of unbending insistence on some point of view or other. The proper scholarly attitude is to live in welcome anticipation of surprise. It is to pursue the truth, but to embrace the reality of my current ignorance, enthusiastically and with wonder. This attitude, it seems to me, is one that honors God.

Finally, and obviously, to pursue the truth in either academic or gospel inquiry is simply to follow the evidence wherever it leads. This includes refusal to acquiesce to the intellectual consensus of the time just because it is the intellectual consensus of the time. Or, even unwittingly, to adopt a point of view just because it was the view of my graduate professors. Others, too, are beholden to intellectual influences they cannot name and they too are destined to turn out mistaken on an endless number of matters, both large and small. My loyalty, if I am to pursue the truth aright, must be to the most subtle and critical understanding of the evidence that I can muster, certainly not to any intellectual system (in my field of psychology, for example) just because people I admire accept it.

Eventually, though we may fail to appreciate it from our current vantage point, we will see that academic and gospel study are roads that lead to each other. The nearer we approach the truth, the nearer we approach the intersection of gospel and intellectual understanding, where the two meet and become one. It is there that the flame of the Spirit burns most brightly and illuminates both what we study, and what we are.

Reaching that point, I believe we will appreciate more than we do now just Who stands at that intersection, and just Who is the source of that divine flame. And we will also appreciate then, more than we do now, that He genuinely is the way, the truth, and the life. Whether we realize it or not, the search for truth is the search for Him.

He is the Only Begotten Son, the Creator, the Light and Life of the world, the Lamb of God, the Holy One of Israel, the Bread of Life, our Savior and Redeemer.

I don’t know much. But I know that and rejoice in it.

Terryl Givens:

If I have a spiritual gift it is perhaps an immense capacity for doubt. I have long lived in the Mormon Diaspora, growing up in Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg, Virginia. My closest colleagues for twenty years have been a devout Catholic, an observant Jew, a seminary student turned Buddhist, and a born again Episcopalian. My wife Fiona is a lapsed Catholic, lover of the temple and all things beautiful, and fervent disciple of the weeping God of Enoch. I have, in other words, spent my life in intimate association with devout believers from myriad religious traditions; I hear my own professions of faith through their ears, and examine my own religious presuppositions with an eye to theirs.

In the course of my spiritual pilgrimage, my innate capacity for doubt led me to the insight that faith is a choice. That the call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, for only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other,” is my heart truly free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness. Under these conditions, what I choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who I am and what I love. I choose to affirm that truthfulness of the Restored Gospel for five principal reasons.

1. Joseph Smith revealed the God I am most irresistibly drawn to worship.
2. He gave the only account of moral agency that to my mind can justify the horrific costs of our mortal probation.
3. He provided a story of the soul’s origin and destiny that resonates with the truth and the appeal of cosmic poetry.
4. The fruits of the gospel are real and discernible.
5. The restoration is generous in its embrace.

My two literary heroes are Dostoevsky’s Ivan from The Brothers Karamazov, and Mark Twain’s Huck Finn. Confronted with the God of their contemporaries, they chose to renounce the ticket rather than bow to the cruelty or the injustice of an omnipotent God.

I could never worship or adore a God who recoils in jealous insecurity because “man has become as one of us.” I could never desire to emulate the divine nature of a sovereign who does not save all of those who are in his power to save. And I could never love a God “without body, parts, or passions,” who does not himself feel love, or grief, or joy, or gladness. Christianity gave us the only God who was willing to die on behalf of his creation, as my wife has taught me. Joseph Smith added to that conception a God who intends our full participation in “the divine nature,” who will bestow upon every single one of his children all that they “are willing to receive,” and who made himself vulnerable enough to weep at our pain and misery. That is a God I am powerfully drawn to and gladly worship.

To say that without moral independence “there is no existence” is to make agency the essential constituent of our human identity. To my understanding, this means that God’s intervention in our personal and collective destiny is self-circumscribed by his reverence for that fact. And any gift he gives us which we do not choose to receive is an abrogation of that agency. This is the only theodicy or beginning to a theory of human salvation that makes any sense to me.

I sense, but do not know for certain, that the spiritual part of my being has an eternal past. As an explanatory paradigm, this view has awesome power. It provides a compelling reason for the intuitive sense of right and wrong, the familiar ring of myriad truths, friendships that erupt full-blown, hunger for a God we have not known in mortality, and a hundred moments of déjà vu in the presence of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. And I cannot begin to fathom what it means to “become like God,” but Enoch gave us a glimpse. It means to love with infinite cost, to have a heart that “swells wide as eternity” in order to be filled with joy and sorrow alike. It is a prospect that sobers more than excites, but it is a prospect nonetheless that the pilgrimage of parenthood affirms and foreshadows.

The gospel works. I have seen its power to transform human life. I can affirm, as Gerard Manley Hopkins did, that “Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes, not his, to the Father, through the features of men’s faces.” New converts and returned missionaries, who in their testimonies unexpectedly speak “with the tongues of angels,” a simple eloquence not of their own resources. Parting words of a beloved friend near death, before whom the veil grew suddenly thin to transparency. Lives redirected and imbued with sudden beauty, to rival anything narrated by a Dickens or a Hugo (whose stories of redemption resonate with their own transcendent power and familiarity).

Finally, the restored gospel is a gospel of liberality and generosity. It took my former-Catholic wife Fiona to teach me that the church John saw did not disappear; it retreated into the wilderness. Joseph Smith saw the Restoration as a bringing of that church back out of the wilderness, a restoration of the “ancient palace” now reduced to ruins, a reassembling of all the good and beautiful in the world and in the Christian tradition, that had been lost or corrupted from Eden forward. The church I love has invisible borders, and reminds me of what was written of Spinoza, that “he rejected the orthodoxy of his day not because he believed less, but because he believed more.” Or as Joseph wrote, “it feels so good not to be trammeled.”

For myriad reasons, but these five principally, I choose and affirm this path in order better to live as what Elder Uchtdorf calls “a disciple of the gentle Christ.”

Daniel W. Graham:

The only way I know how to express my testimony adequately is to be somewhat autobiographical and personal.

I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. My mother was a Latter-day Saint from Ogden, Utah, my father a non-believer from Portland, Oregon. My twin brother John and I were raised in the Church, but we did not attend all our church meetings. There were not many Latter-day Saints in the eastern United States at the time, and we attended a small branch that met in rented halls, which eventually grew into a small ward. I recall that even when I was young I believed in the Church and I was deeply impressed with the leaders and teachers I had. My father was a good man, and broad-minded on many things, but he did not like to discuss religion. He had been raised an Episcopalian, but he had long since abandoned any religious beliefs. He was a ship captain, who sailed on regular voyages to south and east Africa; he had a few passengers on his freighter, some of whom were missionaries for various churches, and he had found it best to avoid the topic of religion altogether.

My family made regular summer trips to visit relatives out west. My uncle, my mother’s older brother Rodney Schaer, was a faithful church member and the patriarch of the family. On one trip while John and I were riding in his car, he told us it would be a good thing for us to be ordained in the priesthood. We were about sixteen at the time and had not been ordained, although it is usual for boys to receive the priesthood at twelve years. This suggestion stayed with both of us when we returned home. We talked to our mother, who said she would talk to our father about it—because we were shy about this. He told her that was fine with him, as long as it was our idea. He did not want us to be forced to go to church as he had been as a boy.

Subsequently, we talked to our bishop and were ordained deacons. One Sunday when I had been attending to my priesthood duties—which was a pleasure after years of feeling left out—I had a powerful experience. I echo the words of Mormon: “And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:15). I believe I was sixteen at the time, but the rest is true of me. I felt the love of God flowing into me and knew he was pleased with my offering. That same day the bishop called me to the second office of the priesthood, to be a teacher. My brother and I became anxiously engaged in church service. A few months later, our ward began to build our own chapel. At the time there was a program whereby chapels could be built almost wholly by volunteer labor from the members. John and I spent almost the whole summer working on the chapel, and much time after school in the fall and winter until the building was completed. The experience of working side by side with the faithful church members was a unique experience which I can only relate to my later experience of attending the temple. Each day we heard religious experiences and expressions of faith from church members, and saw the chapel rise out of the ground to be completed. At the end of our work the apostle Harold B. Lee, later president of the Church, came to dedicate the building.

I went away to college in North Carolina, while my brother went to Brigham Young University. Davidson College, a school sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, provided a positive religious environment. My best friends were Catholic, Episcopalian, and Southern Baptist, and all were supportive of my religion. At times I attended their churches, as well as Methodist and Presbyterian services. (My best friends in Maryland were Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Catholic.) I learned valuable lessons from religion classes at Davidson, and from compulsory Chapel services once a week. But I also learned that the liberal Protestantism of the college could not match the faith I already had and was still cultivating, though I had to travel seventeen miles to church in Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet with the saints. After my father’s retirement my parents moved to El Paso, Texas, where my brother and I attended church in the summers. We met some wonderful members, including many families who had fled to El Paso early in the twentieth century from the Mormon Colonies in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, to escape the civil war that was going on in that country.

John and I wanted to go on missions, but our father was opposed to our leaving college before we had graduated (hoping we would eventually lose interest). We honored his wishes, but as graduation time approached, we talked to our respective bishops, who said we should consult with our parents to see if they would help support us financially. I called John at BYU, who said he had received the same advice. Then I called our parents in El Paso. My mother said it just so happened that our home teachers were visiting (my father was happy to visit with them as long as they didn’t talk religion). Our home teacher had brought over his son, who had just returned from a mission in Central America, and who gave an enthusiastic report of his experiences. She went in to talk to my father, and came back to the phone to say my father had just agreed to support us both fully on our missions. A few months later I was called to the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission, and my brother to the neighboring Central American Mission (which covered the other four countries of Central America—and was the same mission our home teacher’s son had served in).

We both had wonderful missions among the often poor but spiritually receptive people of Central America. Our parents enjoyed hearing of our experiences from weekly letters. From at least that time on, our father had warm feelings about the Church, although he continued to avoid talking about religion. A month or so after we returned, my father got a letter from the shipping company which had employed him for over twenty-five years. They said the executives had been talking about their retired captains, and when the company president recalled what a good captain my father was, he asked how much pension they were paying him. When an accountant told him, he said, “That’s not enough.” He doubled my father’s pension on the spot and made it retroactive for two years. The company sent a large check to him with the letter. My mother said, “That is the boys’ mission money coming back to you.” My father continued to receive a double pension for the rest of his life.

After my mission I was blessed with a good-paying but lonely job as the office manager for construction projects for El Paso Natural Gas. As I was driving up to Washington State on my first assignment, I drove through Provo, Utah. I had a powerful feeling that I needed to go to school there. I applied to graduate school at BYU. In January of 1973 I enrolled in BYU. I took courses in ancient Greek (I had begun studying Greek as a senior, and had taken my Greek New Testament on my mission to study). I felt the hand of the Lord blessing me as I had doors opened to me. I met my wife, Diana Summerhays, in a Greek class my first semester, which opened a whole new world to me. We were married in the fall of 1973 while her father was serving as the mission president in Ireland. After graduating with an M.A. in Classics in 1975, I spent a year in Athens, Greece, studying archaeology at the American School of Classical Studies, which is the American archaeological institute in Greece. In Athens I had prayed about which of two schools to attend to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy, and received a strong impression to go to the University of Texas at Austin, where I accordingly enrolled. I later talked to a recent graduate of the other university I was considering, who was visiting the University of Texas, and he told me that the program at my university was far superior to the one at his alma mater.

When I began my program at Texas, I worried that I would be too rusty. Between my undergraduate and graduate philosophy studies were a mission, a master’s degree in classics, and a year of studying archaeology. I also would be busy with church assignments and meetings whereas my fellow students would have nothing but free time. However, I quickly began to find, to my own amazement, that I was a star student in my classes. Many of my colleagues with the additional free time were spending their weekends partying and coming in hung over on Mondays. I also noted that when I asked what I feared was a dumb question in a seminar, everyone else got out their pens and wrote madly in their notebooks because they were just as ignorant as I. I seemed to them to have more confidence just because I asked. But most of all, just the discipline of doing assignments, meeting deadlines, and facing problems—skills I had learned on my mission—gave me an edge on many students with better training and more time to study.

But I was blessed in other ways as well. In my first semester I took a class on Aristotle that gave me the idea for my dissertation research. From then on, I looked for topics for papers in other classes that would help me further my research for the dissertation. When it was time for the dissertation, I wrote mine in a year and had it approved, finishing at least a year ahead of anyone else in my cohort (while roughly half of the group never finished at all). Throughout my graduate career and ever since I have felt blessed with ideas that pointed me in the direction of valuable research. My first book, for instance, grew out of a single footnote in my dissertation. I have had to organize the research, make the arguments, and so on, but even then, I have found that new ideas came to help confirm the ideas I had started with.

How can a philosopher believe in God? I believe, not because of philosophical arguments, but because of my own experiences. Yet one thing that impresses me is the way in which the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ make sense of everything. They tell us why we are here on earth, where we came from, and where we are going after this life. In short, they explain the meaning of life—something most philosophers have long ago given up trying to do. Moreover, they answer the great philosophical challenges to believing in God, most notably the Problem of Evil: how can a good, all-powerful, all-knowing God produce a world with so much evil in it? If this world is all there is, the question is unanswerable. But if this life is a probation, a time of testing, then the evil serves a purpose in trying and building our character. And if there is a better world, how can we judge the value of life by this world only?

But why should we believe in another world, and in the providential governance of this world? How can we find God in a world with so much confusion? If Christianity is true, the question is really misguided. The question should rather be: how can God find us? If he put us here to find the truth, he wants to teach it to us. That is why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a missionary church. It has good news to share with everyone who will hear. “How then,” asks St. Paul, “shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Romans 10:14-15). And who will send the missionaries? Someone who knows God and is called by him to direct his church. That is why there must be apostles and prophets. The Church of Jesus Christ is a church led by apostles and prophets.

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of [Jesus Christ],” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, “this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-24). Isn’t it wonderful, that mortals should see and converse with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, in our own time? Isn’t that good news like the message the early apostles carried with them? They had not only associated with Jesus of Nazareth during his mortal ministry, but beheld him and associated with him after his resurrection. Even St. Paul, who was going about persecuting Christians, met the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus.

I think all Christians believe God is active in the world in some way, that in some sense his kingdom is on the earth. What most don’t know is that he has set up a kingdom as it was in ancient times, with his chosen servants to communicate his pure teachings and to baptize using his authority. It is vital that there should be special witnesses raised up in our times. For not only the enemies of religion but many professors of religion themselves have been busy impeaching the testimonies found in the Bible, for over a century. At a distance of two millennia and more, the narratives of the Bible have come to be seen by many commentators as just pious fictions. The best corroboration for the Bible would be for modern prophets to come forth who have met the risen Lord like Paul did on the road to Damascus. That would prove the ancient scriptures by reaffirming their message with the same authority the ancient apostles had.

I have a personal witness that this is true. God has whispered his truths to me, and he can whisper them to you. Jesus Christ lives. He is risen! He has conquered death for all of us. Furthermore, he has sent his authorized servants to gather all who will into his kingdom. That is the good news for our time. I just had to share it with you.

Cynthia Hallen:

First Questions

When I was nine years old, my brother Mike and I attended Sunday School at the Lutheran Service Center on Okinawa. Our teacher was an off-duty soldier who served as a layman, not as a professional pastor. One Sunday morning, he told us that unless people accept Jesus as their Savior, they can’t go to heaven. I asked, “What if someone does not have a chance to hear about Jesus?” The teacher said, “That is why we need to be missionaries.” I persisted with another question, “But what if there is an old man in China, and he dies before he gets to hear about Jesus?” The teacher did not know how to answer, so he just repeated his original assertion, “People can’t go to heaven if they don’t accept Jesus.” I did not receive a more definitive answer to my childhood questions until nine years later, when two missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught me about the Plan of Salvation.

When I was a senior in high school, Elder Clausen and Elder Knight taught me that the Lord is a God of mercy, who loves all of His children. He would not create a system that was fair to some people and unfair to others. The Lord authored a plan that enables everyone to hear the gospel message, whether on the earth during this life or in the spirit world after this life. The old man in China that I had worried about would have a chance to hear the fullness of the gospel, and he would be able to choose for himself whether or not to accept Christ as his Savior. I immediately knew the truth of this principle of non-discriminatory universal access to salvation. I also felt the spirit of truth as the missionaries explained that Temple ordinances would provide baptisms for the dead and would enable families to be sealed together in bonds of eternal love. Not just for the Chinese man and his family, but for me and our broken but beautiful family, recovering from divorce and other desolations.

Second Questions

When I was ten years old, we lived on Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, and I became friends with Jamie Cross. Jamie and her family were the first Latter-day Saints or “Mormons” I had ever met. One day I saw a book on the couch in Jamie’s living room, opened to a picture of a boy kneeling in prayer. “Who is that?” I asked. “That is Joseph Smith,” said Jamie. “He went to the forest to pray, and he saw God and Jesus.” I accepted Jamie’s answer with the faith of a fifth grader. I never thought about it again until eight years later, when I had developed a habit of stopping in churches to pray, asking God to please show me the right way to go in life.

One May morning in Phoenix, Arizona, I went to pray in the big yellow church building across the street from Maryvale High School. As I was praying, two “glorious personages” appeared to me (the custodian and the first counselor in a Bishopric). “What do you know about the Mormon Church?” they asked. “Wasn’t there a boy named Joseph Smith, and he went to the forest to pray, and he saw God and Jesus?” I replied. The two men invited me to attend an Open House later in the week. I could not attend, but they remembered my name and the name of a high school acquaintance I had mentioned. They called her Bishop and told him about me. Bishop Dan Moore called Nancy Miner, who found me at school and invited me to listen to the missionary discussions in her home.

The missionaries were young, clean-cut, and polite. Elder Clausen, Elder Knight, and Elder Brown did not try to force anything on me. They explained what they believed to be true with a sincerity that impressed me. They instructed me to ask Heavenly Father in prayer about the truth of their message. “We know it is true,” said Elder Clausen, “because we have prayed about it. But people can be deceived. You can’t just take our word for it. You have to find out for yourself from the Lord.” Their respect for my agency created a bond of trust.

More Questions

During my high school years, my friends and I were seeking truth in the cultural movements of that era, as were many people of that generation. During my junior year, I read a book entitled Do It! by Jerry Ruben. The author’s stated purpose was to overthrow the democratic republic of the United States by means of a communist revolution. His strategy was explicit: to destroy the American family. His tactics were specific: 1) promote illegal drug traffic, 2) deflower all the virgins of America, 3) gain control of the press, and 4) stockpile weapons. Ruben’s plan was eye-opening. This was not the peace, love, justice, and freedom that the songs and slogans were preaching. This was not the truth I had been seeking. I decided that if there was anything true, it had something to do with Jesus Christ.

A year later, the missionaries began teaching me the gospel. Their message was a plan of happiness and salvation for all. Their mission was the antithesis of the radical agenda to destroy families through addiction, promiscuity, suppression, and violence. The mission of The Church of Jesus Christ was to foster lasting love through family life. The teachings were basic: 1) to avoid substance abuse, 2) to blossom as a rose through principles of chastity and fidelity, 3) to publish the gospel of peace, 4) and to respect those who have defended our freedoms.

I was able to compare the teachings of the gospel to truths that I had been gathering from many other sources. For example, when the Elders taught about chastity, modesty, healthy living, and wearing white as a symbol for covenants, I had learned about those principles in my weekly yoga class. When they taught about the Book of Mormon and how Lehi had traveled with his family across the great waters to a new land in the Americas, I said, “Yes, I read all about that in the Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters.” The tiles of truth I had been collecting seemed to come together in a marvelous mosaic.

First Confirmations

During the final missionary lesson, the Elders invited me to be baptized on the day after my eighteenth birthday, to be immersed in water, a symbol of a new clean life. I deferred the invitation, saying that I would think about baptism while I was on a “Challenge/Discovery” wilderness scholarship for a month in the Rocky Mountains near Crested Butte, Colorado. The deferral was just a polite way to say “No.” On the afternoon of my birthday, as I was walking home from high school, an inner voice spoke to my mind with great urgency: “Why are you running away? You say that you want love, peace, a happy family, and universal brotherhood. Why don’t you say YES!” After my birthday party that evening, I called the missionaries to say “Yes.”

Eight days later, I was on my way to a month of kayaking, rock climbing, rappelling, and back-packing, ending with a three day solo in the aspens. As we prepared to ascend Taylor Peak, our teacher, Allan Derbyshire, read a quotation by Dag Hammarskjöld from his book of inspirational thoughts. When I borrowed Allan’s book later to write the quotation in my journal, I encountered another affirmation by Hammarskjöld that shocked me with unanticipated confirmation:

I don’t know Who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal. From that moment I have known what it means “not to look back,” and “to take no thought for the morrow. (Markings)

Last summer, I returned to the aspen-blessed mountains of Crested Butte for the first time in thirty-five years. It was as if I had only been gone for a day, as if I had come back for an interview with my Heavenly Father to report on some homework he had assigned. The feedback was unexpectedly positive: “Well done, my daughter, well done.”

Further Confirmations

While I was serving a mission in La Paz, Bolivia, my missionary companion Martha hired a Sister from church named Yola to fix lunch for us in her one-room adobe home. Every work-day at noon we got to play with Yola’s four children: Jorge Miguel, Oscar Eddy, Miriam Susy, and Edgar Luis. After I finished my mission, it was hard to keep in touch with families we had known in Bolivia. But my former companion wrote regularly, and in 1980 she sent me very bad news.

In January, the stove had exploded in Yola’s home while the three youngest children were inside. Outside, Yola heard the explosion and ran home to save the lives of the children. The two youngest children, Susy and Edgar, were severely burned on one side of their bodies. They survived after many months of hospital care, but they had terrible scars on their faces, hands, and arms.

I couldn’t stop crying about the accident, and I realized that my grief was nothing compared to what Yola’s family had suffered. I fasted and prayed, seeking comfort in the scriptures and in the Provo Temple. In the temple, a Brother gave a prophetic prayer during one of the sessions I attended in May 1980. He said, “Bless the suffering that friends will be sent to them.”

Two years later, I was ready to graduate from BYU with a Master’s degree. While I was waiting to hear about a job offer in Salt Lake, I had a dream. I dreamed that I moved into a home on the Avenues in Salt Lake with my former BYU roommate Carla. When I told Carla about the dream, she said that a vacancy was possible and to call if I got the job. I did get the job, and I moved into the Willis home, a block down from the old Primary Children’s Hospital.

One evening three weeks later, I felt prompted me to visit Karen, a Sister who lived across the street from the hospital. I said, “I can’t go tonight, but I promise I will go tomorrow night.” The Holy Ghost said, “Okay.” The next night, I went to visit Karen, but she wasn’t home, so I walked towards City Creek Canyon to look at the sunset. A nurse, a social worker, and two little children were ahead of me, a boy and a girl. When we got to the edge of the canyon, I noticed that the children had dark hair and bright eyes. They were wearing plastic bracelets, so I knew that they were hospital patients. Then, the girl started to go down the steep slope.

The nurse said, “Come back, Susy!”

When she said “Susy,” I had a moment of incredible recognition.

“Where are these children from?” I asked the social worker.

“From Bolivia,” he replied.

“Miriam Susy!” I cried out. Then I tried to remember Edgar’s name.

“Oscar Eddy? Edgar? Your mother is Yola, and your father is Felix, and you have a dog named Tarzan.”

“No,” they said, “Ya tenemos otro perro (Now we have a different dog).”

It was the last night that Edgar and Susy were in the hospital for in-patient care. It was the only night that they took a walk. Heavenly Father was the one who heard my prayers. He knew where we were and how to bring us together. Such dramatic answers to prayer may be once-in-a-lifetime miracles, but my daily bread also consists of quiet confirmations. My quest for love and truth has led me here, to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, a journey of faith and intelligence, a career of scholarly and spiritual dimensions that I never could have imagined as a child seeking answers to important questions.

Ralph C. Hancock:

I hesitate to advance my testimony as a “scholar” as if it should have more authority than that of someone who wouldn’t claim to be a scholar—say, my sister or my neighbor, faithful and thoughtful people whose testimonies certainly weigh at least as much as mine. But I suppose that, just as soldiers or healthcare-givers or basketball players or any others who share some significant range of experience might benefit from communing on the relation of their work to their religious grounding, so there is no reason why “we scholars” (as Nietzsche refers to us) should not help each other get clearer on the relation of our profession to our confession.

I would not know how to divide my own pursuit of truth into two very distinct parts—say, “faith” and “reason.” Reason would have no purchase on reality if it were not grounded in, or did not arise from, insights or intuitions—including “revelations”—in no way reducible to mere logic or reproducible by some formal and universal method. To live purely by reason, if it means anything, can only mean to be masters and possessors of the meaning of our own existence, and clearly we are not such masters. To live by the light of “science” alone is a non-starter, too, since science, as we moderns understand it, refuses, almost by definition, the question of meaning and purpose. Modern science claims at once to be value-free and to be autonomous or self-governing, and (as Philippe Bénéton has pointed out in Equality by Default) it cannot have it both ways. So the purposes by which we live necessarily exceed our methodical grasp. Philosophy thus cannot dispense entirely with poetry, as Plato well knew, but as many of his successors have forgotten.

At the same time, a truth revealed by a higher power could not be truth for us if it did not address us as rational beings—by which I do not mean philosophers or scientists, but simply speaking beings who make our way in life only by understanding (more or less) the persons and things we deal with as part of some larger whole. Here I agree with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, notably, as well as with Thomas Aquinas and his followers, that we cannot honor our God-given natures without seeking to know the Truth and to live by it. And to know it is not simply to “feel” it or to obey it (though obedience is essential, is primary), but to understand, to seek articulation, to serve God—how did Thomas More put it in the movie?—“in the tangle of our minds.” We are aware, as rational beings, of being parts of a larger whole that we know somehow to be meaningful but that is always escaping our grasp. The Spirit of Truth that is in us recognizes intimations of truth “out of the best books” as well as in those most weighty words revealed to prophets.

But how can we verify the authority of prophets? If such a problem could be solved by some impersonal formal method, then it would not depend upon the purification of the soul of the seeker. Augustine singled out the Socratic-Platonic school of philosophy for praise because it accepted the obligation implicit in the unity of moral and intellectual purification. The truths of Eternal Life are not such as can be received by any and all regardless of character or intention. The truth is gradually unveiled to us “according to the heed and diligence” that we give to what has already been imparted to us (Alma 12:9). Holy truths are not the kind of data that we can first receive and then afterwards decide whether we find it convenient to live by them. This is to say that, if we refuse to offer our own pride and our own projects as sacrifices on the altar of Truth and demand to receive “information” on our own terms, then we will not truly be able to receive such truths and they will only tend to our damnation.

I cannot neatly separate, in my own imperfect striving towards what is good and true, the confidence that I gain from rational evidence from the promptings of the Spirit. I suppose if I were asked to unpack and organize the foundations of my testimony (as this worthy web project seems to require of me), then I might lay them out as follows: 1- Atheistic materialism is shallow, self-contradictory and false. There is a meaning and order to the way things are that cannot be accounted for by the random action of matter in motion, or whatever is the latest scientific expression of meaningless materialistic necessity. And so we must seek some account of the meaning of things that connects the way things are with human purposes, with love and with agency; 2- Among all philosophies and religions, Christianity (a) is the most compelling account of such meaning (the surprising and yet rationally powerful notion of God who gives himself to save the world) and is (b) well-attested by reliable historical witnesses; 3- Latter-day Saint (a) teaching is the richest (notably in its seamless integration of Law and Grace and its response to universal longings for enduring bonds of kinship) and its (b) Church organization is the wisest and most effective among Christian bodies. Moreover, (c) its divine origins are supremely well-attested by (i) reliable historical witnesses and by (ii) the massive, insuperable fact of the existence of the Book of Mormon.

Each of these points would require explanation and would invite much argumentation, which I will not attempt to address here. Since this last point regarding the simple existence of that substantial text we call the Book of Mormon indicates what seems to me the most striking and accessible evidence available, allow me to quote from a letter I wrote, along with friends Daniel Peterson and Matthew Holland, to First Things magazine a couple of years ago:

The recent date of the appearance of this record [The Book of Mormon] seems to [some] to detract from its authority in comparison with “manuscripts containing one or more gospels that date to within just a few centuries” of Jesus’ time, and “some evidence … that goes back to within just a few decades … of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.” But . . . the Book of Mormon . . . is a substantial text (500+ pages) whose internal complexity and coherence are rarely appreciated, even by Latter-day Saints. It includes a dozen or so distinct prophetic voices, interweaves many diverse historical strands, richly depicts a foreign civilization (or two or three of them) including diverse cultural and other features (detailed geography, sophisticated warfare, a complex monetary system, etc.), contains a powerful and many-faceted Christian teaching that is consonant with but not simply identical to teachings of the Bible or of the Christian tradition, and often does so in surpassingly beautiful language—and all this in a volume of English prose of determinate content that no one doubts came into existence during a brief and definite period not quite 180 years ago. The book exists—a brute fact—and is easily available for anyone’s inspection. Mark Twain dismissed it as “chloroform in print,” but of course it was not written for Twain’s entertainment, and the fact that what he looked at in it bored him does little to account for its existence, even if we set aside the compelling quality of its teachings. Anyone with a stake in the veracity of Christ’s message and the reality of his mission might consider the significance of the sheer existence of this text: For if, by any chance, it is what it claims to be, then we are indeed in possession of “another witness of Christ” that truly assures us, independent of doubts arising out of the long, complex, and clouded history of the biblical manuscripts or from the distance of the events they narrate, of the reality of the living Christ.

[Some] pass over . . . the direct and well-attested statements [of 11 witnesses], never renounced even in the face of powerful incentives. . . . Would such testimony in favor of Luke’s gospel not be welcome, even if two thousand years old? [Would we] so easily dismiss the eleven faithful apostolic witnesses to the resurrection of Christ? But we refer readers again to the text itself. How is one to account for it? The more one knows about it, the harder it is to accept any of the alternative theories of its inauthentic production, if indeed there is even a serious contender left in this field. Anyone is free to read the book, to study it prayerfully, and perhaps to begin to appreciate the rich articulation of its parts within a consistent whole, and then, if so inclined, to propose some theory of its origins. Indeed, any reader who is at all open to the possibility of God’s intervention in human affairs in modern as well as ancient times is free to consider the possibility that we, today, have been given a powerful and beautiful new witness of Christ’s reality for all people of all climes and all epochs—that is, the possibility that he holds in his hands an ancient text translated by an unlearned young man by the gift and power of God.

But again, evidence of the kind represented by the brute fact of the existence of the Book of Mormon can only open the door to the kind of knowledge that can guide our lives and eventually exalt us. We have to walk through that door, and then through the next, and then all the others that God opens for us as we seek the kind of knowledge that cannot be separated from the keeping of sacred covenants.

My confidence in the Restored Gospel is thus rooted in an ongoing, unfolding experience that is both spiritual and intellectual: I find that my heart and my mind expand as I keep covenants and seek knowledge by inviting the Lord to strip me of vanity. “Here’s my heart, oh, take it, seal it!” While still a teenager I remember reading in section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants this testimony of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon: “That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.” It occurred to me then that this was a true testimony and that this changed everything, that this was a truth that claimed my existence. This conviction has not impeded my wide-ranging reflections on the great questions of the Western philosophical tradition, but on the contrary has nourished them and, in ways I’m still learning to articulate, has been nourished by them. I have experienced what the prophet Alma promises as the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ: “. . . is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light, and whatsoever is light, is good because it is discernible . . . ” (Alma 32: 34; my emphasis).

How grateful I am for the real and discernible goods to which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has opened my heart, mind, and soul! Though “my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted . . . Oh Lord, I have trusted in thee and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4: 19, 34).

Steven C. Harper:

In 1985 Mark Hofmann killed two innocent people and nearly himself trying to cover his string of forged documents, many of which were calculated to cast church history in a suspicious, less than faithful light. Earlier that year (May 1985) the church published one of the forged documents in the Church News, a purported letter from Joseph to Josiah Stowell about using a fresh hazel rod to find buried treasure guarded by a clever spirit. At age fourteen, I read the letter in the Church News at the breakfast table and asked my father flippantly why they weren’t teaching me that at church. “I don’t know, “ he said. He explained that he didn’t understand the letter. He made no pretense to understand it. He then explained to me that he knew that the Book of Mormon was true because of his experience with it and with the Holy Ghost. It would be many years before I could understand that my father had given me a most effective epistemology for breakfast.

At the time of the bombings, Hofmann had rumored that he could acquire documents created by controversial early apostle William McLellin if he could get funding. In June 1985, as part of his plot to defraud, Hofmann offered to donate the collection to the church. Ironically, the church had acquired many of McLellin’s papers in 1908. Leaders and archivists who knew of the acquisition had passed away and the church had lost consciousness of the documents. In March 1986, in the legal fallout following the bombings, archivists discovered letters that mentioned acquisition of McLellin’s papers, which led to the discovery of the papers. Rumors spread, meanwhile, that the church would suppress the McLellin documents. Instead, church leaders invited Jan Shipps, a renowned non-Mormon scholar of the Saints, to edit McLellin’s papers for publication by an academic press. She in turn collaborated with John W. Welch, editor-in-chief of BYU Studies, where I was working as an editorial assistant. I was assigned to help the editors compare McLellin’s original holograph journals to typescripts to ensure the accuracy of The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831-1836. I read those journals closely. They are evidence for Richard Bushman’s informed observation: “The closer you get to Joseph Smith in the sources, the stronger he will appear, rather than the reverse, as is so often assumed by critics.” That is my experience.

I have held the first vision accounts in my hands and studied them very much. I know what they say and how they say it. A historian cannot prove or disprove whether the vision they describe was historical. I don’t know that the vision happened because the documents say it did. Rather, I find no reason in the historical record to disbelieve in the vision. I believe that it happened because I find the documents authentic. They speak to me spiritually. I don’t find the same inconsistencies or anachronisms or conspiracy in them that unbelievers have. Indeed, I recently read the journals of Benajah Williams, a Methodist itinerant in Mendon, NY, not far from Joseph’s Manchester, who documented a religious scene perfectly compatible to the one Joseph described.

I have examined the Book of Mormon manuscripts and studied the extensive and complex historical record of its translation. The evidence is conclusive that Joseph produced the Book of Mormon between April and June 1829. Moreover, the historical record evidences that those who knew Joseph best in this period believed him most when he declared that he translated by the power of God. But I know that the Book of Mormon is true because I feel the Holy Spirit when I read it and abide by its precepts. The Book of Mormon makes me a better father and husband, a better follower of Jesus Christ. I know that about it.

I am a student of Joseph’s revelation manuscripts. I was one of the editors of his revelation manuscript books. Joseph didn’t assume that his revelation texts were faxed from heaven. I don’t either. I share his sense that God spoke to Joseph in his language, which Joseph described as crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect. In any communication the encoder sends signals to a decoder, the recipient. In the process there is always “noise” that impedes full and flawless receipt of the message communicated. I understand Joseph’s revelations as messages communicated by a divine encoder but received by a decoder or recipient limited by crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect mediums. In this way of thinking, Joseph neither received the messages flawlessly nor had the power to re-communicate them perfectly, as he and other revelators have acknowledged. My faith in Joseph’s revelations rests on this understanding, and on the compelling evidence that those who knew Joseph best believed his revelations, that he could not produce them on demand, that he marveled at some of them, and that he sometimes confessed to having intentions and aspirations that differed, sometimes significantly, from what his revelations commanded him and others to do.

I know the early reception history of Joseph’s revelation manuscripts. Those who were best positioned to know—the ones with whom he counseled, the ones who wrote as he dictated, the ones whose convenience and reputations were at stake, testified that they were “given by inspiration of God & are profitable for all men & are verily true” (Book of Commandments and Revelations, page 121). I know that the so-called Kirtland Egyptian Papers are not what critics have claimed them to be, and that critical explanations of the Book of Abraham obfuscate the historical evidence rather than rely on it.

There is much that I do not know. I do not know how to understand plural marriage. I have studied the complicated historical record of it diligently and there is very much that remains unclear. I don’t know exactly how to understand D&C section 132. I don’t know what to make of the problematic letter purportedly from Joseph Smith to Nancy Rigdon. I recently gave a talk at a leadership meeting. My topic was historical issues with which Saints sometimes struggle. I catalogued the historical problems, briefly describing each. While describing the received wisdom on plural marriage, I had a distinct and undeniable thought that came from outside me. “You do not know what you are talking about,” it said. It was right. I do not know how to think about plural marriage. I continue to thoroughly examine the historical record, seeking light and truth by study and also by faith. I do know, as a result of that process, that Helen Kimball and Lucy Walker both left testimonies that Joseph did not exploit them, and that they both testified that they received their own revelations, as Joseph invited them to do, before being sealed to him. In other words, I know that the historical record created by witnesses and participants does not match the sensational books and online material created by people who know less than I do. And I know that I don’t know.

I am deeply saddened by reports of Saints losing their faith after becoming conscious of one or more controversial issues of the Mormon past. I wish I could give each of them the experiences I have had and help to educate their expectations and identify their assumptions and discern the difference between their interpretations of evidence and the evidence itself. Obviously, the historical evidence is not the determinant of belief or disbelief. Those who knew Joseph best believed him most. The historians who edit the Prophet’s papers believe. Many of the historians who know the historical record best are firm in the faith. They believe.

I believe. I choose to believe and have not been disappointed as many have. I think that my resilience to the forces that have eroded the faith of so many was forged in my early, formative experiences with the historical record and a faithful father who handed me his epistemology—his way of knowing and coping with not knowing.

I empathize with those whose experiences differ from mine and leave them feeling unable to believe. Stephen Burnett typifies many such individuals. He felt the Holy Spirit and a desire to take the gospel to his relatives. He led his parents into the church and responded successfully to mission calls. But by 1838 Stephen felt completely disillusioned. He tried but failed to regain the Holy Spirit. Finally he “proclaimed all revelation lies” and left the church. Stephen wrote candidly to Lyman Johnson, explaining his decisions. “My heart is sickened within me when I reflect upon the manner in which we with many of this Church have been led & the losses which we have sustained all by means of two men in whom we place implicit confidence,” Stephen wrote, referring to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. He said that the foundation of his faith failed and the entire structure fell in “a heap of ruins” when he interpreted a statement by Martin Harris to mean that Martin and the other Book of Mormon witnesses had not really seen the plates.

Stephen Burnett gave us a rich metaphor by describing his faith as a building whose foundation had been shattered, leaving only a heap of ruins. Those who share his experience know what he means. There are many coping strategies such souls adopt. Stephen chose to acknowledge that “Harris and others still believe the Book of Mormon,” but that he was “well satisfied for myself that if the witnesses whose names are attached to the Book of Mormon never saw the plates as Martin admits that there can be nothing brought to prove that any such thing ever existed for it is said on page 171 of the book of Covenants [D&C 17:5] that the three should testify that they had seen the plates even as J[oseph] S[mith] Jr & if they only saw them spiritually or in vision with their eyes shut—JS Jr never saw them in any other light way & if so the plates were only visionary.”

I am struck by the three instances of if in Stephen Burnett’s statement. He built his interpretation of the witnesses on hypotheticals: if the witnesses never saw that plates as he believed Martin Harris had said, and if Joseph never saw them then they were only visionary. Hearing that train of thought, Martin asserted that the plates were not visionary. He did not wish to be understood as Stephen Burnett understood him. But Stephen had chosen to disbelieve and Martin’s testimony did not affect him. Evidence of an eyewitness was not the determinant of his faith. Rather, Stephen’s faith, or lack thereof, determined the way he interpreted the evidence of the eyewitness.

I empathize with Stephen. Indeed my heart aches for him. But I do not see as he saw. The historical method I practice professionally and the spiritual life I enjoy have long since combined into a most blessed inheritance: my father’s confidence to choose faith precisely because of the mixture of what he knew and didn’t know.

Valerie Hudson Cassler:

I am a convert to the Mormon Church from Roman Catholicism, and gained my testimony as the result of spiritual experiences that I cannot deny. In this essay, however, I will discuss instead why, as a feminist, I remain a steadfast member of the LDS Church.

It is very difficult to be raised in one of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), as I was, and not come away with some fairly unpleasant conclusions about women. Depending on the religion and sect involved, one may be taught that the first woman was feeble-minded or a murderess and that all her daughters are marred by that fact, that a woman’s body is unclean, that God meant women to submit to their husbands and in general be subservient to men, and that divinity is male and male alone. (Of course, echoes of such teachings can be found in other faith traditions besides the Abrahamic, as well.)

After decades of studying LDS doctrine concerning women (and carefully distinguishing it from LDS cultural understandings and practices, which in quite a few cases contradict that doctrine), I have been liberated as a woman from the erroneous and harmful beliefs about women that haunt those raised in Abrahamic traditions. How remarkable and in some senses ironic it still seems to me to have experienced “women’s lib” by conversion to Mormonism!

I will first review the main points of doctrine that make Mormonism the most feminist of all the Christianities in my view, and then proceed to re-tell the story of the Garden of Eden from the vantage point of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Restored Gospel teaches that the term “God” means an exalted woman and an exalted man married in the new and everlasting covenant (D&C 132:19-20). We are taught that there is no God without men and women loving each other as equals. Heavenly Father is not an eternal bachelor; he is married to our Heavenly Mother. In fact, the one who’s an eternal bachelor is Satan.

Second, the Restored Gospel teaches that all will have their male or female body forever. It is not a curse, but a great gift and a blessing that each soul had to prove itself worthy to have. Women readers, your breasts, your womb, your ovaries, are not unclean cursings; they are blessings. And the Restored Gospel also teaches me that I will be married forever, and that I will have children forever, and that the life of being a woman married to my sweetheart and having children forever is the life that will bring me the fullest joy in the eternities—as it has here on earth.

Third, LDS doctrine teaches that men and women are equals before the Lord and before each other. “Equal” does not mean “identical”—for example, there are no two men who are identical, and yet they stand as equals before each other and before the Lord. Can we imagine an understanding of equality that means that a man and woman, though different, can be equals before the Lord and before each other? That is the vision of equality that the Restored Gospel teaches.

Elder L. Tom Perry, an apostle of the LDS Church, said in 2004: ““There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.”1 What an incredible vision, especially for a Christian denomination, many of which believe in some type of doctrine of submission of wives to husbands. The LDS do not preach submission of wives.

In my opinion, we cannot fully understand this revolutionary doctrine of the LDS Church unless we go back to the story of the Garden of Eden. Again, let us start with three main points of difference in the telling of that story from the vantage of the Restored Gospel.

Number one: the LDS do not believe that the Fall was a great tragedy. Rather, we believe that the Fall was foreordained, that it was for our progression, and thus the Fall was a blessing. Number two, the LDS do not believe that Eve sinned in partaking of the fruit of the First Tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And number three, because the LDS do not believe Eve sinned, we also do not believe that Eve was punished by God for her role in partaking of the fruit, but rather rewarded.

The Great Plan of Happiness devised for the children of God mandated that they leave their heavenly home, receive a mortal body as a blessing, enter into full agency by being separated from God, and then return once more to their heavenly home to be judged for how they used their agency. That is, the Plan was to be a “round,” if you will: it would take us from our heavenly home and, if we walked that path well, the plan would bring us back to our heavenly home, now much more like our Heavenly Parents, with much more knowledge, a fuller agency, a desire to choose the right, with so much more than we ever could have acquired if we had stayed in heaven with a pale or dilute version of agency.

Only the children could choose to leave, and to bring to pass a separation from their divine parents. And so in the Garden were placed a son and a daughter of God, and two trees. Two persons, two trees.

Both Trees represented doorways along the journey of the Great Plan. The First Tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, symbolized the doorway leading from heaven, and the ordinances of entering mortality with a mortal body, gaining full agency, and having the light of Christ awakened within. The Second Tree, the tree of eternal life, symbolized the ordinances of salvation and exaltation, and the doorway back to our heavenly home.

Eve was created second, then, not because she was derivative of Adam: she was created second to highlight that the giving of the gift of the First Tree was the gift to be given by women in the Great Plan.2 It is through women that souls journey to mortality and gain their agency, and in general it is through the nurturing of women, their nurturing love of their children, that the light of Christ is awakened within each soul. And we should include in that list of souls Jesus the Christ. Even Christ our Lord was escorted to mortality and veiled in flesh through the gift of a woman, fed at his mother’s breast, and awakened to all that is good and sweet in the world. Women escort every soul through the veil to mortal life and full agency. It is interesting to think that even Adam, who was created before Eve, entered into full mortality and full agency by accepting the gift of the First Tree from the hand of a woman. In a sense, Adam himself was born of Eve.

If Eve was foreordained to give this good gift as her stewardship in the Great Plan, then she did not sin—and that is LDS doctrine. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of the LDS Church, has said, “Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall.”3 We believe that our Heavenly Parents, and also all of the rest of God’s children, were happy and grateful that Eve offered her gift.

Eve, then, was not the worst among women; Eve was the best among women! She was the most courageous, the most full of faith. It was also right, then, that the first mortal being that the resurrected Jesus showed himself to was not a man; it was a woman. Jesus’ performance of the Atonement repaid Mother Eve’s faith in the Plan, her courageous opening of the door represented by the First Tree.

Did God curse Eve? We know that the ground was cursed for the sake of Adam and Eve—is this a cursing of Adam and Eve? In the teachings of the LDS Church, we do not believe that that was a curse meant to punish them—it was a curse meant to start that law of opposites that undergirds agency: virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, light and darkness, truth and lies (2 Ne 2:11-13). Eve was told she would labor in childbirth—was this a cursing of Eve? Again, from the LDS perspective, absolutely not. To have children, to be able to fully give the gift of Eve, is one of the most soul-satisfying parts of a woman’s life that she will either experience here or in the hereafter if circumstances have prohibited it here.

And then in the King James version of the BIble, we are told that Eve, as part of her punishment, was told that Adam would rule over her. Is that what the LDS believe? Actually not. Elder Bruce C. Hafen, a seventy in the LDS Church, says: “Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to ‘rule over’ Eve, but… over in ‘rule over’ uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling with, not ruling over…. The concept of interdependent equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel.”4

So the LDS alone among all Christian religions assert that not only did Eve not sin, but she was rewarded for her courage and wisdom, and God was assuring her that, just as she fulfilled her role in the Great Plan of Happiness, Adam would step up to the plate, and he would perform his role in the Great Plan of Happiness, and that would entitle him to rule with her. This is absolutely revolutionary and astounding doctrine among all the Christianities!

What gift will Adam give to further the Great Plan? The LDS believe that Adam and his sons will give the gift of the fruit of the Second Tree to the children of God, those who are worthy to receive it, just as Eve and her daughters give the fruit of the First Tree to all who are worthy to partake of it. The fruit of the Second Tree is the ordinances of salvation and exaltation administered by the sons of God. Just as the doorway through the veil into this life is administered and guarded over by the women, the daughters of God, so the doorway through the veil that brings us home is administered and guarded over by the sons of God. And those that have accepted the gift of the Second Tree from the hands of the sons of God will pass through that veil and back to that celestial place where they can be with their Parents once more.

Just as Adam was asked to hearken to Eve and received the fruit of the First Tree, Eve is asked by God to hearken to Adam in accepting the fruit of the Second Tree. We would be remiss if we did not see that there were two hearkenings, two gifts given, two gifts received, two stewardships.

That means that priesthood, in the LDS understanding, is not some extra given to men and denied women. Priesthood is a man’s apprenticeship to become a heavenly father, and it is clear from LDS doctrine that women have their own apprenticeship to become like their heavenly mother. The ordinances—and they are ordinances—of body and of agency—pregnancy, childbirth, lactation—the spiritual ordinances of the First Tree are not less powerful or spiritual than the ordinances of the Second Tree.5 Women have their own godly power.

Some have erroneously felt that the Church and its male leaders preside over the members’ families, and that somehow that means that men are to rule over women. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Restored Gospel helps us see that the Church is intended to be the gift that the sons of God give to the family, just as the daughters of God give a great gift to the family. The Church, then, is but an auxiliary to the family, which stands above it in the eternal plan. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle of the LDS Church, has said, “There might be wards and stakes in heaven—I don’t know anything about them—or there may well be some other organization that we don’t know much about. What we do know will exist in heaven is families. And most of what has been revealed about our afterlife, our eternal life, our celestial life, focuses on family organization….”6 The family is the divine organization, and we know from LDS doctrine that, in the family, women and men rule as equals. President James E. Faust, of the First Presidency of the LDS Church, said: “Every father is to his family a patriarch and every mother a matriarch as coequals in their distinctive parental roles.”7 Notice the drumbeat, again, of equality.

I remain a steadfast member of the Mormon Church because, for the first time in my life, I understand why it is not a curse to be born a woman, and how it can be said with a straight face that men and women stand before God and before each other as true equals. I understand now that women are that they might have joy (2 Ne 2:25). And, odd as it may sound to some, I believe that one of the most profoundly feminist acts one can commit is to share the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. The Restored Gospel not only restores right relations between man and God, but right relations between men and women, making it the strongest, most progressive force for women in the world today.

Truman G. Madsen:

A renowned sociologist cornered me in the Harvard library stacks one day. “I can’t account for it,” he said, “and I probably wouldn’t trust your explanation. But I find more spiritual vitality per square inch among the Latter-day Saints than any other group I’ve studied. And I’ve covered the waterfront.”

I didn’t ask him to define his terms, and he didn’t wait around for my “explanation.” Here, I am invited to give one in brief and totally subjective terms.

For nearly half a century I have had an absorbing academic but also sympathetic role: to study and interrelate world religions and philosophies and to lecture and write about them. Five of those years I have lived in or near Jerusalem.

Over these decades I have often ascended the Mount of Olives from the east with clusters of visitors, most of them here for the first time. Whatever their origins and backgrounds, whatever their faiths or unfaiths, they, like me, typically gaze in awe at the golden vista of Jerusalem. In the heavy silence I wave my arm and say, “There is our past, present, and future.”

But I see and feel and revel in something few of them can yet see. Cranes loom on the horizon to testify that Jerusalem is being rebuilt. My mind’s eye sees a related rebuilding. In my own life, in my very nerve endings, so to speak, I have vindicated the audacious and unique affirmation of the Latter-day Saints. It is this: The original religion of Jesus and His first-generation church and community have, in fact, been twice-born; once in Jerusalem and once in a newer Jerusalem in America. The splendor of Christ’s past and much of the splendor of His future has become embodied and realized in a community that is a nucleus of the eventually all-inclusive kingdom of God. This new beginning, this fresh start with all of its fire and fervor, is in the process of transforming lives in the pattern of the earliest disciples of Jesus. The book of Acts is being rewritten in the lives of flesh-and-blood people in the world today. It will lead to a full-scale messianic and millennial age.

How all this came about is chronicled elsewhere. But there is nothing sectarian about it. The vision, traceable to Christ himself, is of a near-nation, a people, a culture, a civilization that encompasses everything this-worldly and everything other-worldly and aspires to make them one in the beauty of holiness.

Colleagues of other faiths who have done their homework on the heart of this restoration theology find in it all the traces of Jewish Christianity. When I studied under Paul Tillich, he called it “neoprimitivism.” The label helps a little if taken as a glimpse of what the Latter-day Saints mean by the “restoration of all things.” Primitivism points to the testimony that the covenant made with and by Abraham is forever binding and will eventually reach to the whole human family, that the major and minor prophets were prophets in the fullest sense. It points also to the Latter-day Saint recapitulation of the history of Israel, including their exodus into a new Zion—also to the merger of laws and ordinances in people-hood. Above all it points to the centrality of temples as the sanctuaries of full access to Christ’s most pervasive life-giving powers. All this is clearly in continuity with the Jewish heritage.

The term neo suggests the unblinking witness that men and women of God have beheld the living Christ in this generation as did Paul on the road to Damascus, and that traveling the world today are apostles and prophets and charismatic men and women whose credentials are identical to those of old. Under the sanctions of a royal priesthood, they are empowered and mantled as “servants of all.” (See Mark 10:44.) Young and old, all laypersons, are promised anew all the spiritual gifts of the biblical record. From the day of their conversion, youth as well as aged are called to be a combination rabbi/priest/minister. All teach, all serve, all occupy the pulpit, all perform functions of priestly ministration. More startling still is the insistence on the need and the reality of individual continual revelation. When it comes through the leadership and is upheld by the common consent of the membership, the result is modern scripture, some of which mirrors biblical teaching, some of which clarifies and supplements it.

Newly discovered ancient writings confirm the essential thesis that the role of the Messiah has been anticipated in every generation. All this increases the resonance and relevance of biblical scholarship in my life. Doctrinally speaking, it can be put in five sentences:

Christ is like God and God is like Christ.
If we are not Christlike we are not Christian.
There is only one way to become Christlike
That is the way He became what He was.
He submitted to the will of the Father and to all of His laws and sacraments.

These are required of us: They begin but do not end with faith and trust in Christ’s atonement. He who was full of grace was also full of truth—and is therefore a Revelator. The process requires enlightenment and growth in knowledge. We are saved through His mission, which is to overcome ignorance and sinfulness, and, beyond both deaths in the body and of the body, to bring us forth in resurrection.

Focus on these precepts as precepts may miss their dynamism, their power in life. In me, and in many others, the movement has created—not just fostered and encouraged, but created—new levels of openness in conscious imitation of the Jesus of history. I call it “Christianity in the present tense.” If we follow Him, it means we are:

1. Open upward, to inspirational and creative guidance from on high.
2. Open inward, to the deepest impulses and insights of our own vibrant spirits and those of every man, woman, and child.
3. Open outward, to all the good and true principles in the world, regardless of their source—and to their beauty.
4. Open, if need be, downward, to the wounded and staggering and addicted.

As a biographer I have worked with the whole history of notables from ancient times to now. In this context I have studied line by line and day by day the teachings and life of Joseph Smith. Harold Bloom, prolific Yale literary critic, has lately written that, by almost any measure, Joseph Smith stands with the greatest and most influential of American religious figures, including Thoreau, Emerson, and William James. But intriguing and impressive as he is becoming in world thought, his prime impact for those who knew him was to point beyond hearsay and secondhand assent.

Joseph Smith taught after his own encounters firsthand that all could come unto Christ in this way and eventually receive and give what Jesus called a “fulness” (D&C 93:19). With the advantage of recency and of trustworthy witnesses who shared and duplicated his experience, he stood for the opposite of what many supposed was the role of a prophet. Instead of “take my word for it,” his life and teachings say, “Find your own sacred grove and come to your own individual and independent awareness.” The one secure way to comprehend a prophet as a prophet, ancient or modern, is both humbling and terrifying. It is to become yourself endowed with the spirit of prophecy, which we are told in the Apocalypse is “the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10). My people know as well as we know anything what this means in heartfelt prayer and submission. Privileges follow that are laden with intimate personal effects, or in the word of Jesus, “fruits” (Matthew 7:20). Among them are His vitalizing love, joy, and peace that endure and even intensify in the midst of affliction and tragedy. I have tested and been tested by these realities through every critical wringer I know. They hold up.

My life has overlapped the decline and fall of many -isms and institutions. Some around me have despaired of religion and then made a religion of despair. When they cry out, “How can you know?” they are often saying to themselves, “None of these alleged experiences and spiritual outpourings occur today, so how can we believe they ever did?” My response: “Exactly backward.” The cumulative witness of the Latter-day Saints is that all of these things are happening today, so one may be assured they could have happened before. Much that distinguishes the movement is public, shareable, and repeatable.

In philosophical terms it could be said that the restoration movement is at once rational, for Christ who was and is the truth dissolves contradictions. It is empirical, for the senses were and will be involved in the invitation of the resurrected Christ, “Handle me, and see” (Luke 24:39). It is existential, for it is whole-souled. And it is pragmatic, for it works at all levels of human need. In these ways, what appears to some to be the least verifiable religion has turned out to be the most.

It is said that we cannot choose three things: our parents, our birth, and, because they are thrust upon us in tender years, our attitudes toward religion. That is as it may be. But in another sense I, and many like me, have chosen all three. I have been reawakened to and reclaimed my Divine parentage and have come to realize that it is as inescapable as my DNA. By submitting to what our people call “the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel” (fourth Article of Faith), I have chosen the time and extent of my rebirth. And with my family I choose regularly to seek out environments charged with light and godliness—among them the sacrament table and the temple. And I choose to bring them into the daily din and into my home.

In short, I, my wife, and my children—a family, we are assured, that can be as immortal as any individual—have embraced to our depths the religion of Jesus Christ, which transforms all of our loves and all of our lives.

Hugh Nibley:

The essential information for solving almost any problem or answering almost any question is all brought together in the scriptures, but it is not put together for us there. Learned divines for sixty generations have argued about that, and the vast bulk of their writings is eloquent witness to their perplexity. And this is where the temple comes in. Without the temple any civilization is an empty shell, a structure of custom and convenience only. The churchmen, posing with too much dexterity to accommodate their teachings to the scientific and moral tenets of the hour, present a woeful commentary on the claims of religion to be the sheet anchor of civilization and morality. Where is the unshakable rock, the ʾeven shetiyah? It is the temple.

Five days a week between three and four o’clock in the morning, hundreds of elderly people along the Wasatch Front bestir themselves to go up and begin their long hours of work in the temple, where they are ready to greet the first comers at 5:30 A.M. At that time, long before daylight, the place is packed; you can’t get in, so I virtuously wait until later, much later, in the day. Whatever they may be up to, here is a band of mortals who are actually engaged in doing something which has not their own comfort, convenience, or profit as its object. Here at last is a phenomenon that commands respect in our day and could safely be put forth among the few valid arguments we have to induce the Deity to spare the human race: thousands of men and women putting themselves out for no ulterior motive. There is a touch of true nobility here. What draws them to the temple? There is no music, pageantry, or socializing to beguile the time; none of us begins to grasp the full significance of what is going on, yet nobody seems bored. Why is that? I can only speak for myself, harking back to the subject of hints, those countless impulses with which our receptors are being bombarded by day and night. For thousands of years the stars have gone on sending us their hints, broadcasting unlimited information if we only knew it; now at last we are reacting to a narrow band of the informational spectrum, putting clues together in a way the ancients never did. But also we are beginning to suspect that there were times when the ancients reacted to another band of the spectrum which is completely lost on us. The temple, as the very name proclaims, is a place where one takes one’s bearings on the universe. What goes on there is confidential and must remain so until both the Mormons and the outside world are in a better position to understand it. Meanwhile, I write this almost fifty years to the day since the bewildering experience of my own endowment; I have just returned from the temple again where this day I made a most surprising and gratifying discovery. If I went to the temple five times and nothing happened, I would stop going. But I’ve gone hundreds of times, and the high hopes of new knowledge with which I go up the hill every week are never disappointed.1

We live in Vanity Fair today, and the temple represents the one sober spot in the world where we can really be serious and consider these things. It is my testimony that the gospel has been restored, and the Lord intends to fulfill his purposes in these days. And whatever we ask him for, he will give us. This I tell my family without any reservation whatever. I have never asked the Lord for anything that he didn’t give to me. Well, you say, in that case, you surely didn’t ask for much. No, I didn’t; I was very careful not to ask for much. We don’t want to be spoiled brats, do we? We ask for what we need, for what we can’t get ourselves, and the Lord will give it to us. Don’t worry. But he also wants us to get in and dig for the rest. So I pray and hope that the Lord may inspire and help us all to become more engaged—more involved—in the work of these latter days and visit the temple often and become wiser all the time, because he intends to give us more revelations through that instrumentality.2

On the Brethren
I spent a week with Apostle Spencer W. Kimball visiting his home stake in Arizona. We were gone ten days. We went by train in those early days. We came back to the old Los Angeles station, and in that part of Los Angeles, there were a lot of bookstores, which I knew very well. I bought a whole set, a very rare collection, of Alfonsus De Lingorio, the seventeenth-century Redemptorist writer on probabilism, a very valuable set of ten volumes. I barely made it back to the train by running across a lot. I jumped on the train, plunked down beside Brother Kimball, who was already on the train, and staggered into the drawing room, my arms full of the complete set, which I greatly valued.

As we sat talking about the books, Brother Kimball casually took an immaculate linen handkerchief from the breast pocket of his jacket, and, stooping over, vigorously dusted off my shoes and trousers. It was the most natural thing in the world, and we both took it completely for granted. After all, my shoes were dusty in the race for the train, and Brother Kimball had always told missionaries to keep themselves clean and proper. It was no great thing—pas d’histoire. Neither of us said a thing about it, but ever since, that has conditioned my attitude toward the Brethren. I truly believe that they are chosen servants of God.3

On the Terrible Question (What is after death?)
Joseph Smith had already stated the problem as clearly as anyone ever has and done what no one else has done in giving us the solution. “What is the objet of our coming into existence, then dying and falling away, to be here no more? . . . [This] is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night. . . . If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject.”4 And this is where religion has failed, turning to the social gospel and intellectual posturing to avoid the issue.

Joseph Smith not only states the problem, but he provides the prime clue to the answer on the same page: “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”5 The answer must come from the outside, and that is recognized now. The term breakthrough that Eduard Meyer applied to the beginning of Christianity and Mormonism is today being widely used in theological journals to explain the divine origin of Christianity: It cannot be a human invention, our own imagining; to be real it must come from elsewhere. But of course the phenomenon is denied for modern times.6

On Scholarship
The only person you try to impress is your Heavenly Father, and it is awfully hard because he can’t be fooled—not for a minute. I have always felt driven this way. The gospel is so wonderful. There is so much to find out. It opens the doors to so many things. It is sort of an obsession, a sort of personal thing. As long as you are going to be doing something, why not be doing something that hasn’t been done before.7

In a discussion on who and what preceded Adam and the various theories related to those ideas: “It is sad to think how many of those telling points that turned some of our best students away from the gospel have turned out to be dead wrong.”8

On the Scriptures
I’m getting deeper and deeper into the old study. I’m more and more sure of sources. I’ve been collecting some marvelous stuff on Joseph Smith recently. I could say my testimony gets stronger every day. These scriptures are true; they are real. As the literature expands and associations turn up, you realize that all scholarship is comparative scholarship. There is no end.9

“Search the scriptures,” said the Lord, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). The words and deeds of prophets and of angels testify to the divinity of Jesus Christ; so likewise does the written record of those words and deeds. There are many reasons on which we cannot comment here for believing that God gave the miracle of writing to men as a means of keeping records through the ages. Writing is as marvelous and subtle a thing in its operation and in its effects as television. Here we have a means of transmitting not only the deeds but also the very thoughts of men through unlimited expanses of space and time—and this amazingly economical and efficient device has been in the possession of the human race from its very beginning. Writing was not devised by men as a tool to help them in their everyday affairs: successful businessmen have been illiterates, and there is ample evidence that writing was adapted to commercial uses only after such uses were found for it. If you bring together all the written records of man’s past, you will discover that the overwhelming mass of material is religious in nature, and that the primary purpose to which writing has been put through the ages has not been for business records and correspondence, in which writing is employed awkwardly and without enthusiasm, but for keeping a remembrance of God’s dealings with men. The specific purpose of writing, as the Egyptians put it, is to record the mdw ntr, the divine words.

We have skirted the fringe of speculation here for a moment only to recall to a generation that has forgotten to read the scriptures that the written word is one of the means chosen and established by God for communicating with his children. It is not the only means or the most direct means—to insist on that is a common fallacy of the sectarian world. A man who can convey his mind to others only through a written letter must be personally inaccessible to them either because of distance, death, or some other obstacle, and to say that God can speak to men no more clearly or directly than in written pages hundreds of years old is to impose upon him the most pathetic human limitations. Of course God can speak to men now as directly as he ever did, and the scripture is but one of his ways of speaking to them. It is a most effective way, however, and one that has peculiar advantages of its own. It overcomes time—the scriptures are the common meeting ground of all the prophets no matter how many centuries apart they may have lived; here they all speak a common tongue and bear witness to each other. The prophets constantly and characteristically quote each other; the New Testament everywhere quotes the Old; after the resurrection the Lord taught using the very words of Moses and the prophets and employing the scriptures for that purpose. He said that those who did not believe those prophets would never believe him.

As no one has a right to limit God’s capacity to speak to men with his own voice whenever and wherever he will, neither has anyone the authority to say that God may not, when he will, present his children with his word in writing by dictating scripture to his prophets, by bringing forth forgotten writings of the ancients, by guiding the work of an inspired translator, or in any way he chooses. We have said before that the test of the soundness of men’s hearts is their willingness to accept the message of a living prophet; the same applies to their willingness to accept God’s word in any form. So the Lord has told us through an ancient prophet how it is when men who reject the prophets because they already have dead ones are confronted with God’s written word: “Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? . . . Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another” (2 Nephi 29:6-9).

. . . What do we find in it? A wealth of doctrine embedded in large amounts of what is put forth as genuine historical material, not devotional or speculative or interpretive or creative writing but genuine historical fact, stuff that touches upon reality—geographical, ethnological, linguistic, cultural, etc.—at a thousand places. On all of these points the book could sooner or later be tested, as Joseph Smith knew. We cannot possibly deny his good faith in placing it before the whole world without any reservation. Aside from all other considerations it is a staggering work; its mass and complexity alone would defy the talent of any living man or body of men to duplicate today. Its histories are full and circumstantial; yet sober, simple, straightforward—there is nothing contrived, nothing exaggerated, nothing clever in the whole book. For a century and a quarter it has undergone the closest scrutiny at the hands of its friends and enemies, and today it stands up better than ever.10

On Science
Until the final returns are in, no one is in a position to make final pronouncements, and as long as science continues to progress, the final returns will remain at the other end of a future of wonders and surprises. In the world of things, we must forever keep an open mind, because we simply don’t know the answers. But we are not claiming that because science does not have the ultimate answers, religion does have them. What we do claim is that the words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity.11

On Testimony
I have a testimony of the gospel which I wish to bear. Again, as Brigham Young says, because I say it’s true doesn’t make it true, does it? But I know it is, and I would recommend you to pursue a way of finding out. And there are ways in which you can come to a knowledge of the truth.

When is a thing proven? When you personally think it’s so, and that’s all you can do. . . . Then you have your testimony, and all you can do is bear your testimony and point to the evidence. That’s all you can do. But you can’t impose your testimony on another. And you can’t make the other person see the evidence as you do. Things that just thrill me through and through in the Book of Mormon leave another person completely cold. And the other way around, too. So we can’t use evidence, and we can’t say, I know this is true, therefore you’d better know it is true. But I know it is true, and I pray our Heavenly Father that we may all come to a knowledge of the truth, each in his own way.

On the Gospel
I include acceptance of the gospel among the basic bodily functions like sleeping, eating, and breathing. They are not rational but spontaneous; without them we would die, but that is not why we engage in them. We eat, breathe, and sleep long before we are in danger of dying of hunger, suffocation, or exhaustion; if we had to have a rational explanation for doing those things before we were willing to invest any effort in them we would not be long for this world. The eye it cannot choose but see, l’âme pense toujours (but the soul always thinks), and as far as I can see, faith is inseparable from the awareness of existence. Existence, the Egyptians said, is a marvel compared with which all other marvels pale into insignificance: it is something not to be explained but accepted; and to accept it is to feel a surge of gratitude—to what, for what? We cannot shake off the wonder and delight of being, the indefinite prolongation of which is but a minor problem once we have got over the original obstacle—namely, the enormous odds against existing at all. Our reaction to being here must be a religious one, because the only principle of continued being is holiness. One cannot maintain an even level of folly. Each act is a step downward unless it is a righteous act, and the concept of righteousness cannot be divorced from the idea of holiness.

I have written too much and said too little. This is no religious philosophy at all. It is a situation in which I find myself: I am stuck with the gospel. I know perfectly well that it is true; there may be things about the Church that I find perfectly appalling—but that has nothing to do with it. I know the gospel is true.12

——
1 Hugh Nibley, “An Intellectual Autobiography,” in Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others and the Temple (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2008), 18–19.
2 Hugh Nibley, “The Meaning of the Temple,” in Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 38.
3 Hugh Nibley, “Criticizing the Brethren,” in Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 444.
4 History of the Church 6:50, emphasis added.
5 History of the Church 6:50.
6 Hugh Nibley, “Not to Worry,” in Eloquent Witness, 193–94.
7 “Hugh Nibley: The Faithful Scholar,” in Eloquent Witness, 25–26.
8 Hugh Nibley, “Before Adam,” in Old Testament and Related Studies (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1986), 57.
9 Hugh Nibley, “A Conversation with Hugh Nibley,” in Eloquent Witness, 90.
10 Hugh Nibley, “The Book of Mormon as a Witness,” in The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987), 207–9, 211.
11 Hugh Nibley, “The Prophets and the Open Mind,” in The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987), 134.
12 Hugh Nibley, “Dear Sterling,” in Eloquent Witness, 146–47.

Dallin D. Oaks:

One of my favorite scriptural passages is found in the revelations that the prophet Joseph Smith received. In this passage we find: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine & Covenants 88: 118). Later in this same book of scripture we also learn that obedience is an important element in gaining “knowledge and intelligence” (Doctrine & Covenants 130: 19; see also John 7: 17). I find great meaning in these passages and have seen their truth confirmed in my own life. Although some people are suspicious of religious and spiritual matters, I have actually found that such things complement the academic and secular approaches to learning. In my own life I have learned things through both study and spiritual intimations. In fact, at times I have sought the help of the Lord to solve particular problems, even academic ones that transcend the current limits of my own understanding. At other times I have experienced a burst of insight or direction that I had not anticipated but that has allowed me to make further progress in my own life or academic work.

To acknowledge that the Lord takes an interest in our lives, sometimes even matters related to our work, is not to say that he regularly solves our problems for us. He certainly expects us to do our part. The first passage I mentioned above mentions study, not just faith. But if people merely study and shut themselves off from the additional font of light and knowledge, then they are imposing an unnecessary limitation on their potential happiness and success.

I am certainly aware that some skeptics might propose counterarguments or alternative theories by which they might attempt to explain away what I have just said about my own personal experiences with faith and reason. But my own conclusions about this relationship between faith and reason have not been developed through some kind of naiveté. I have had many years of experience and personal reflection on this relationship. And although I don’t claim to have figured out everything in this regard, I have seen and experienced enough to know that the relationship is a real one. As with many truths in life, I think it involves paradoxes. Some might ask how faith and obedience can bring learning or knowledge. It might initially seem like a backwards proposition to those who assume that faith and obedience should come after evidence or knowledge. But in the same way that many people have “found” themselves only after first losing themselves in the service of others, I can also say that faith and obedience often precede greater light and knowledge. Indeed, the relationship in my own life seems to be cyclical. Faith and obedience bring greater understanding, which in turn builds a greater faith and desire to be obedient, which can bring more understanding, and the process continues. Along the way we can see evidence of the truth of what we believe, so we are not operating with what others would incorrectly assume to be “blind faith or obedience.” We aren’t expected to abandon our intellect and reason. The Book of Mormon, in fact, encourages us to try an experiment in relation to faith (and it actually uses the word “experiment”). It invites people to first “exercise a particle of faith” to plant a seed (the word of God) and then observe whether the seed grows with watering and cultivating. The seed won’t grow if it is not a good one. But if the seed grows and enlarges our soul and increases our understanding, then we know it is a good seed. Thus we have evidence along the way to confirm what originally only required just enough faith to plant the seed as part of an experiment (Alma 32). This description in the Book of Mormon is consistent with my own person experience. And my own conviction of the truth of the restored gospel has not come through just one experience but many experiences, stretched out over a lifetime.

As I read the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scriptures revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith, I am continually impressed with the richness and beauty of the doctrines presented within them. I am also amazed at the continuity and consistency between these scriptures and the Bible. Moreover, when I read the latter-day scriptures, I feel the same spirit that I feel when I read the Bible. This confirms to my soul that the ultimate source of both is the same: the Lord Himself.

Blake T. Ostler:

My background is in law and in analytic philosophy, with an emphasis in the philosophy of religion. Virtually every challenge to belief is earnestly explored at length in the discipline of the philosophy of religion. This field of study presents every conceivable argument both for and against faith. I have been blessed to be exposed to numerous perspectives and the remarkable faith of some of the great minds in human history. I have felt a challenge throughout my life to honestly explore, challenge, and assess my beliefs. It is rare for a philosopher to claim to know anything. The realm of what we can honestly say we know is extremely small. Nevertheless, I know what I have experienced. I know that God has spoken in my heart of the truthfulness of the revelations of Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith.

The knowledge that my heart responds with knowing joy to the revelations and scriptures given through Joseph Smith has freed me to explore all challenges with a simple faith. This knowledge has defined my life since I was fourteen years of age. In about July of 1972, I saw a classic film about Brigham Young on TV that starred Tyrone Power, Vincent Price as Joseph Smith, and Dean Jagger as Brigham Young. Toward the end of the film, the saints have arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and nearly starved to death because they lacked food. When spring arrives they plant and await an early harvest. Just as the saints are about to harvest their crops necessary to make it through the next winter, a hoard of crickets descends from the hills and begins devouring their crops – you know the rest of the story. However, in the film, just before the seagulls arrive, Brigham is so despondent that he concludes that he must confess that he is really just a false prophet. Of course the seagulls arrive just in the nick of time to save him from this damning confession.

As a fourteen-year-old I figured that, if Brigham Young thought he was a false prophet, it followed that he was in fact a false prophet. I didn’t want to spend my life pursuing a religion that was led by false prophets. So I felt that I had better find out what was going on with Brigham Young. I asked my Mother where I could find more information about Brigham Young and she suggested that I could find what I was looking for in the Doctrine and Covenants. I commenced my search for answers with urgency. I decided that I would read ten chapters a day. As I began to read I discovered that there wasn’t much about Brigham in the Doctrine and Covenants. However, it occurred to me that Joseph Smith also had to know whether he was a prophet or just making it all up. Indeed, I didn’t see how he could possibly be self-deceived into thinking he was a prophet if he wasn’t, because he knew full well whether he had gold plates that he received from an angel or was just lying about it. So I began to read, and searched with an intensity I had never known in my admittedly inexperienced and short life.

As I read, I scrutinized carefully every chapter, page, sentence, and word to see if it could answer my question: Was Joseph Smith a prophet? I remember vividly, as I read, coming to the conclusion that, though Joseph Smith knew whether he was a prophet, I couldn’t know. I would have to get inside his head to know what he knew—and he was dead, and that knowledge died with him. Nevertheless, I also felt a sense of deep remorse for things that I had done. I remember kneeling and asking for forgiveness—and the response was so unexpected to me. I knew that I was forgiven. I felt as if someone had taken a powerful soap and cleaned me from the inside out. I felt as light as light itself.

I continued to read to see if somehow I could figure out whether Joseph Smith had tipped his hand in some detectable way. About the sixth or seventh day, as I read, my heart began to burn, to radiate, to vibrate with life, to expand with knowing, to enlighten my mind with knowledge—the deepest sense of knowing that I had ever experienced. It was the most joyful and meaningful experience I had ever known to that point in my life. As I sat on the side of my bed reading, I knew that I knew. I had found an answer in a way that I had not anticipated and, indeed, found knowledge within my heart that at some level I didn’t know already resided there.

About a year after that experience, I had another that convinced me that listening to the subtle stirrings of the still small voice is a matter of life and death—and very vital and real. I was waiting outside the gymnasium at the old Jordan High School. I was a sophomore at the time. As I sat there, a young women that I didn’t know well at all came and sat beside me. Without thinking and without hesitating, I turned to her and said: “I know that this will sound strange, but I have a message for you. God wants you to stop thinking about suicide.” Her eyes became great big and her mouth dropped in stunned surprise. She gasped, “How did you know?” In truth, I was also stunned that I had just said what I did. This young lady was a very pretty senior to whom I don’t remember having spoken previously. If I had thought about it before speaking, I would never have opened my mouth. I would have been completely intimidated. On any other day, I would have been too self-conscious to open my mouth. She explained to me that she had laid out on her bed stand an entire bottle of sleeping pills that she planned to go home to take right after the assembly we were about to attend.

The next morning she ran out of the building to meet me as I approached the school steps. She ran up to me and hugged me, crying. I’ll never forget what she said as she sobbed: “I didn’t know that God cared about me. Thank you.” To this day I’m stunned that somehow I knew God had a message for that marvelous young lady. We became friends after that experience. But the truth is that I don’t know how I knew—I just did.

At the beginning of my sophomore year I decided that I would prove that the theory of evolution must be wrong for a research paper in my English class. I read everything I could find, including specifically Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man, His Origin and Destiny. As he explained it, if evolution is true, then there was no fall; if there was no fall, then there is no need for atonement; and, if there is no atonement, then there is no Christ. I knew that the gospel is true and thus concluded that evolution had to be false. In many ways, this experience of searching to disprove evolution would define my path in life. As I researched to disprove evolution, I became convinced that evolution is the best explanation for the evidence that is overwhelming. Everything in paleontology, geology, zoology, and biology made little sense unless I accepted some form of the theory of evolution. Instead of writing a refutation of evolution, I wrote a paper about the relationship between intelligence and hominid cranial evolution. I concluded that cranial size or capacity had no real relation to intelligence, but morphite dendrology or the complexity of dendrites in the endocasts of hominid cranial fossils was the real determinant of intelligence.

However, my conclusion presented a very trying dilemma and a good deal of cognitive dissonance for me. How could the gospel be true as I knew in my heart and yet evolution also be true? I began to research that issue at length. I spent almost every waking hour researching, reading, thinking, and pondering the implications of these issues. I learned of the historical discussion among the Latter-day prophets and apostles and their disagreements and disputations regarding this issue. I admit that it is an issue that I continue to research. But I have long since concluded that Genesis was written in a pre-scientific culture that had a very different world view than any that I could truly entertain as an explanation for the evolution of life. However, I have also learned about ancient Near Eastern cultures and the role that the creation stories played in their explanation of human experience. The opening chapters of Genesis are among the most valuable in the scriptures for me. I continue to see myself and the reality of the human condition and our relationship to God and the gods powerfully revealed in these chapters.

Shortly after or during this same time, I also learned that Joseph Smith and others had made numerous changes to the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon in editions subsequent to the first editions. Because of my love for the Doctrine and Covenants, I began to ponder how that could be. How could Joseph Smith alter a revelation he had received? It was during this time that I first formulated what I have come to the call the co-creative view of revelation. I knew from my own experience that I had impressions, revelations, and insights that spoke in my mind and that I could formulate in many different ways. In fact, the fullness of the knowledge could almost never be expressed adequately and, as I grew in capacity, I was better able to express even what I had learned in earlier revelations. I figured it was the same for Joseph and the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Shortly after I began to work on this issue, I also discovered that Egyptologists had raised a number of issues about the translation of the Book of Abraham. This issue became my next project. I read all of the Improvement Era articles and everything I could about what is known as the 1912 Bishop Spaulding attack on the Book of Abraham. I was surprised how open the Mormons had been to publishing even the attacks on the Book of Abraham in full in the Improvement Era. Frankly, I didn’t find much helpful to respond to the points made by the Egyptologists. I also read all of Hugh Nibley’s articles in the Improvement Era that responded largely to the issues raised when facsimile number 1 was found by Aziz Atiya in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1966.

This issue presented more challenges than I had capacity to answer. I began to study Egyptian as best I could, using Budge’s introduction to Egyptian. It is clear that the papyri that Joseph Smith possessed were not written by “Abraham’s own hand,” because they date from around 200 B.C. to 100 A.D.—at least 1,500 years after Abraham lived. However, since I had experienced the truth of Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet, I knew that I didn’t have to become an Egyptologist to retain my integrity. I still have questions about the Book of Abraham, but I have come to a few firm conclusions. First, the parallels between the first century pseudepigraphic work known as the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Abraham are so compelling that they require some explanation. Joseph Smith could not have known about this pseudepigraphic work. Second, it is rather clear that Joseph Smith is not translating the facsimiles in any common sense. Rather, he is explaining their meaning in relation to the story of Abraham and using them to illustrate Abraham’s visions in a manner very similar to another first century pseudepigraphic work known as the Testament of Abraham, which also used vignettes from the Book of the Dead to illustrate Abraham’s visions. I have provisionally concluded that these vignettes from the Book of the Dead, or the vignettes from the Book of Breathings that Joseph Smith had, are recognized as derivative of Abraham’s visions by both these Jewish writers and Joseph Smith through revelation. Third, I have also studied the ancient Near Eastern sources and creation stories. As I read the Book of Abraham, it reflects an ancient Near Eastern knowledge of the council of the gods and their activity in creating the world.

I have also studied the history of Joseph Smith. While I was still in high school I became aware of what many regard as thorny issues regarding Joseph Smith. I have continued to study as much as I can for greater insight. Joseph’s practice of polygamy has not been the challenge for me that it is for many. Nevertheless, I have explored as much as I can because it is so easy to engage in judgment of Joseph Smith regarding this issue. The knee-jerk reaction is that Joseph was just a sexual lech who used his position of power to persuade others to give up their daughters for sexual escapades. However, the practices of sealing, of being sealed to other men’s wives, of being married to many older women, and of asking for other men’s wives only to use the challenge as a test of faith is much more complex than such a facile judgment—or judgmentalness—can explain. I have concluded that there is a great deal that we must surmise and that there is a great deal that we just cannot know because of the intimacy and sacredness of these relationships. These were, after all, almost puritanical women committed to faith in God who consented to marry Joseph Smith.

However, there are a few provisional conclusions that I have reached. The fact that we cannot verify any descendants of Joseph Smith except those begotten through his wife Emma strongly challenges the notion that Joseph Smith was simply using plural marriage as a means to satisfy his sexual lust. Second, and far more importantly, polygamy was and is intended to be a test that stretched those who confronted the request to engage in it beyond anything they could imagine. It also stretches and challenges us. Indeed, even today it challenges us to give up the preconceived notion that we can pigeonhole God into our matrix of judgments. The practice of plural marriage obliterates the notion that God must fit into our categories of right and wrong and that we can know all about God without God revealing himself to us as he is, rather than as we think he must be.

Daniel C. Peterson

I first paid serious attention to the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints early in my high school years, because I found them attractive and intriguing. Very soon thereafter, I also began to suspect that they were true. I was impressed by a radical set of doctrines – radical in the best sense of the word, meaning deep down to the roots – that rested not upon inferences and speculation but upon credible witnesses. I continue to be exhilarated by the grandeur, vast scope, and cosmic sweep of Mormonism, as well as by its dramatic history, and I have long been firmly convinced that it is all that it proclaims itself to be.

From the outset, my conviction that the startling claims of Joseph Smith and the church he founded are true has rested upon a mixture of intellectual analysis, empirical evidence, and what many would call flashes of intuition. (With my fellow Latter-day Saints, I would term these personal revelations.) In its most ordinary form, such intuition for me has resembled the Sehnsucht or sense of longing that C. S. Lewis describes in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis recounts his quest for what he calls “pure northernness,” for the immense, cold, clear, and fiercely beautiful world that he had glimpsed in various works of literature and – perhaps rather oddly to some – in the music of Richard Wagner. I know exactly what he means. Experiences from youthful backpacking in the Sierra Nevadas of California, coupled with two years as a missionary in Germanic Switzerland, have made that very image a potent one for me, too. Like Lewis, I believe that such yearnings point validly to the possibility of their own fulfillment. If there were no actual object for such desires, we would not have them. Our hunger indicates the existence of food; our thirst demonstrates the existence of water. Yet I am convinced, as Lewis was, that our spiritual yearnings will not and cannot be fully satisfied in this life, however desperately we may seek to quiet them with inadequate substitutes. Even the splendor of the Swiss Alps or the Canadian Rockies, even the exultation of Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” or the majestic choruses of Puccini’s Turandot, do not fully still the longing. But they do, I believe, hint at the existence of something that can. Augustine was right: Our hearts will continue restless until they rest in God.

For, by contrast, the secular, naturalistic position seems to me a constricted, flat, and ultimately meaningless worldview that trivializes all of human life. I’m struck by Huston Smith’s image, in one of his later books, of a tunnel (which he uses to symbolize secularism) running beneath a gorgeous alpine meadow. (Again, coincidentally, there is the image of “northernness.”) Travelers in the tunnel have literally no idea of the glory and vastness of the world through which or, rather, beneath which they are traveling.
Not only is the cosmos that Mormonism discloses to me a rich one, but the doctrines of Mormonism are satisfyingly deep even when compared with other, more “major,” religious traditions. Mormonism is a profound way of looking at the world, seven days a week. It preserves all of the fundamental virtues of theism in general and of Christianity in particular, including the deity of Christ and his vital saving role as Redeemer and Mediator. Indeed, buttressed by the testimonies of modern prophets and apostles, it provides solid backing for Christian theism in a corrosively skeptical age. But it also bathes religious faith in a brilliant and exciting new light. (I cannot conceive of a more hopeful message.) And its claims withstand examination. I have attempted, and continue to attempt, to set out in writing some of the powerful empirical evidences, including marks of Semitic antiquity in the uniquely Latter-day Saint scriptural texts, that, to my mind, argue for the authenticity of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and the inspiration of the movement he founded. I will have made only the merest beginning on that task when I finally turn my computer off.

At the same time, however, Mormonism is remarkably open to the idea that God is at work in other communities beyond the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While, as almost everyone who knows anything about us surely realizes, we are ardent missionaries, we do not condemn others to damnation. Although we declare, quite frankly, that the fullness of saving truth, religious ordinances, and priesthood authority has been entrusted to the Lord’s restored Church, we also believe that truth and goodness are to be found elsewhere. God has inspired and does inspire others beyond our community, and most likely even unknown to us. In the course of my work editing and publishing classical texts of philosophy, theology, mysticism, and science from various Near Eastern languages, I’m frequently asked, “Why are the Mormons doing this?” I typically respond along the following lines: You know us as an exclusivist group, dispatching tens of thousands of missionaries around the world, summoning others to accept God’s modern revelation to living prophets and apostles. This is accurate. But it is incomplete. We are also, though the fact is far less well known, an inclusivist group, open to all truth and all people. Our own canonical scripture demands of us that we “seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom,” and our prophets have advised us to gather up truth wherever we can find it. Even more fundamentally, our view of missionary activity (extending beyond this life) and of vicarious service for those who have died without hearing our message, testifies to the impartial love of God for all of his children, no matter when or where they have lived. “Our Heavenly Father,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.” And our expansive view of the eternal destiny of humankind means that, in the end, only those who defiantly and finally refuse God’s love will be deprived of at least some level of salvation. This is, to me, an immensely comforting doctrine.

My experience with Mormon communities on five continents replicates, even in the very human problems that all of us experience (and cause), the life of the early Christian church that I see depicted in the biblical Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul. Latter-day Saint “wards” provide genuine community, a “haven in a heartless world,” in which members of the Church live together in love and mutual caring. Lacking a professional clergy, each of us is responsible to lead and teach and serve. And the power of Latter-day Saint doctrines is especially evident at what might be called the great “nodal points” of human life, such as weddings, the birth of children, and death. Marriage and family are given not only social significance but eternal weight, which powerfully sustains the vows that undergird them and charges even seemingly small daily acts with cosmic meaning. The Church’s emphasis on the central concept of “covenant” seems to me especially relevant in our individualistic society. Additionally, we benefit from rituals of blessing on occasions of crisis and illness, as well as at moments of new opportunity. And the gospel speaks with especial eloquence at times of death, when, in the Latter-day Saint view, those who depart do so into a very real and concrete world in which social ties and family relationships flourish even more richly than they do here, and where learning and growth continue into boundless eternity.

On a firmly practical level, the organization of the Church continues to astonish me with its brilliance and adaptability. Whether responding to catastrophes or sustaining individuals and families during rough times, it is remarkably effective. Specifically, in an era when female-headed households are on the rise in the United States and other western nations, when the disappearance of fathers increasingly leads to what has been termed the “feminization of poverty,” Mormonism, I think, does a strikingly good job at the difficult task of socializing males. From the very earliest stages of adolescence, priesthood callings (and especially missions) train them to serve, to grow up, to think of others rather than of themselves. And from their earliest days, they are taught that their most important role will not be as athletes or as CEOs, but as husbands and fathers, and – notwithstanding the unfortunate connotations the word carries in some circles – as patriarchs, whose primary function is to serve and (literally) to bless their families. This seems to me clearly not a retrograde step but, in the climate of our time, a necessary and salutary one.

Are there dry periods? Yes. Of course. I believe that mortal life was designed to put us through such trials. And they’re not always brief. During those times, though, I recall moments of piercing insight when, as Latter-day Saints sometimes say, the veil between this world and the next has seemed very thin. In my case, at least, these have often been connected with what we regard as the holiest places on earth, the temples built and dedicated by the Church. These sanctuaries are marked off as sacred and inviolate from the ordinary, compromising traffic of daily life and its mundane demands, and I have experienced them as beachheads of that other world in this one.
Do questions remain? Yes. But they intrigue and suggest; they do not paralyze. “For now,” as the apostle Paul noted, “we see though a glass, darkly.” We “know in part.” But I have seen enough and understand enough to be assured that the day will come when we shall see “face to face.” And “then shall I know even as also I am known.” Until then, as the ancient American prophet Nephi said, although “I do not know the meaning of all things,” “I know that [God] loveth his children.”

A famous and somewhat enigmatic fragment from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus says that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” It is my professional obligation, as a scholar, to know many things. (I wish I knew many more than I do.) But it has been the most fulfilling joy of my life to know one big and very important thing. The nineteenth-century zoologist Ernst Haeckel is reported to have said that, if he could have just one question definitively answered, it would be, Is the universe friendly? My experience, my reason, and the teachings of modern prophets and apostles all concur in testifying that it is.

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