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You should have saved the applause for afterwards. This a talk where no divine inspiration settled. I think I can fill the time. I wanted to mention first of all that I just got a note. Some of you have seen this book that we have on display at the Interpreter table back there, but there haven’t been any copies available. Well apparently, while I am speaking, a pallet or a couple of boxes with 59 copies are going to arrive at the bookstore. So, if anybody is interested it’s going to be available after this session. It’s called Name as Keyword. It is collected essays on names in the Book of Mormon and the kind of wordplays that go on if you understand the Book of Mormon was not written in English originally but was written in Hebrew or something like it. You begin to see that, as in the Bible, you see this often where there are wordplays on the names in the stories. If the name means something and they typically do, then the story will play on that.
Matt Bowen, who has a degree in Hebrew Bible from Catholic University in Washington D.C., has found similar wordplays going on in the Book of Mormon, with the names in the Book of Mormon. And that, from my point of view is extraordinarily interesting and significant because it suggests that the Book of Mormon was not written in English because the wordplays disappear in English. They don’t work, but they work if you understand what the underlying Hebrew was likely to have been based on the meaning of the name. So anyway, there should be some copies out there. I can’t guarantee it because I will be up here when and if they arrive but we’re told they are on their way and they should be out there so if anybody is interested, this is a chance to get them still hot from the press.
Alright, I’m told that it’s always good procedure to start with a joke if you’re giving a speech. I looked through the notes that I threw together. I’ve been traveling a huge amount and even missed the first day of this conference and part of the second day and so I just don’t have many jokes. So I thought of offering myself as the joke. And so these are some things that I’ve taken, actually my wife found them; she was delighted to find them on the web. These are some of the ones that are kinder from critics.
There are some that just were not appropriate for a family audience or for a FAIR gathering. And so I thought I’d offer these to loosen up the audience.
I don’t know if any of you missed this movie, The Tapir Whisperer:
Mister Enos the Talking Tapir.
Now, there are people who are watching this conference. I’ve been watching their reactions already online. For example it’s said that yesterday during one speech there was an eruption of hatred from the audience towards all critics of the Church, and someone said that’s not the only time it’s happened here. They remembered a time a few years ago in a FairMormon Conference where I cited the name of a critic or someone who is not altogether happy with things here and the audience immediately broke out with cries of “Get him!” because he was apparently here; and so, also arriving with the books will be pitch forks and torches for the activity we’ve planned after this. We’re going to go get some of those critics because apparently, this is the equivalent of a Nazi rally to some of the critics because we’re all seething with hatred and wanting to go out and get those bad guys, namely people who don’t agree with us. So I just can’t wait to see what’s said about what I have to say now.
One of the church meetings that I hated most and I’m not always a fan of meetings, church or otherwise, but, one of the ones I disliked most, several years ago, was an evening meeting on a week night. It was a Stake meeting devoted to the concept of service. It was a special meeting. We all got together and listened for two hours to talks on service. It had been a long day and by the time we were done, I was really tired and went home feeling guilty but tired but we hadn’t done a thing. I remember thinking wouldn’t it have been better to have a half an hour of speeches on service and then some projects we could have done. Something where we would have felt better about the use of the day. So I’m going to give you some more or less practical points here along the way; not that many, not that useful, but a few.
The first question that we have to discuss here, I was sort of assigned the topic: Apologetics – What, Why and How. So the first question is what. A verse from Peter, 1 Peter 3:15, that I’ve quoted quite often, “Be ready always” it says in the King James Version, “to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” or in a clearer modern translation, the NIV, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have but do this with gentleness and respect.”
Now some people think that the enterprise of apologetics (“apologetics” is a word you hear here and that you don’t typically hear in Mormon circles very often) is illegitimate in and of itself. But I would argue that we do it all the time on, all of us, on all sorts of subjects. People ask you, “Did you like the movie?” And you say, “No.” And they say, “Why not?” and you give reasons. If they ask you, “Are you going to vote for so and so?” You say, “Yes, I am.” “Well, I don’t like him; why do you like him?” You give reasons.
It would be really odd if someone asks you, “You’re a Mormon; why are you a Mormon?” “Because. And that’s all I’m going to say because it would be immoral to give you reasons.” Giving reasons is apologetics in a way. The word apologetics, I’ve said this before here, is just the old Greek word for defense or an answer. In fact, in that verse, 1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you…” The word that’s translated as answer is “apologia.” It’s just: give an apology, not meaning “I’m sorry”. That’s a later meaning of the word. That’s not what it originally meant. I’ve mentioned here before that you have Plato’s apology — the apology of Socrates. Any of you who’ve read that know that Socrates does not apologize. He’s defiant. They are going to put him to death and he says, “Fine, do it; but I’m not backing down from what I’ve been doing.” It’s not about saying “I’m sorry”; it’s defending what you’ve been doing, which he does, quite unrepentantly and defiantly. So, defense, answers, giving answers, giving reasons.
Why do we do it?
One of the reasons is, we have to worry about the welfare of those around us and about ourselves. Why do we it? 1 Timothy 2:4. “God will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Which, by the way, to me is a refutation of certain forms of Protestantism that say God willed to save certain people and willed from the beginning of the world to damn others. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God wants all people to be saved. He’s not willing to let some men be damned to demonstrate his glory or something like that, his wish as a loving father, as a loving parent, and we can all imagine what this is like as parents we would like all our children to succeed, to make it, to be happy. It would be a very weird and perverse parent who really didn’t want that for a child. But that’s what God wants. And because God wants all his children to succeed, we should, too, if we seek to be God-like. Moses 7:37, where God is asked by Enoch, “How is it possible that you can weep?” And his response to that is, in part, “Wherefore should not the heavens weep seeing these–humans that Enoch is being shown–shall suffer?” There will be a judgement, but God would like to save every one of his children as any parent would.
So the last judgement: Mosiah 28:3, the sons of Mosiah speaking, “Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any humans soul should perish, yea, even the very thought that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.” They were very sensitive on this point because they had sensed something of this suffering of the damned, the terror of judgement in their own conversion experience, and they did not want anyone else to suffer that of which they had had only a foretaste. We should all be feeling that way. The reason to do apologetics, the reason to try to advocate the gospel, is so that there will not be more suffering upon the earth; so that people will have the peace and knowledge and understanding that come with an understanding of gospel principles and the plan of salvation—the comfort that can come.
Also, who should do this? Well, everybody who is a member of the Church should be engaged in this in some way. That doesn’t mean everybody has to be some kind of professional apologist or study Greek and Hebrew or any of that sort of thing. But everybody should be engaged in trying to share the message and explain why it’s persuasive to them. I was really pleased to hear Elder Pearson’s talk today when he was saying this is a mission that the Church as such, the official Church, cannot do by itself. It needs the help of all the members and even then it’s going to be a big task. We all need to be involved and we’ve had this message for years: “Every member a missionary.” Now, a lot of us: I look around my neighborhood and there are almost no non-Mormons to talk to. I work at BYU and they’re pretty rare there too. Right? So, I sometimes say, “Well how? If I were living in California or Tonga or somewhere in the Sahara Desert I could do something. But what about being here?” But now with the wonders of the Internet, we can all reach people around the world. It’s amazingly easy. Put up a website, a blog, something like that. You can reach people all around the world in areas that even the missionaries can’t get to. Let me just tell you about that very quickly.
I may have mentioned this once before but I met a couple in Australia who were there as religious refugees. The husband had converted himself to the Church having never met a Latter-day Saint in his native Saudi Arabia. If you think about that, he had found the Church website. He was fascinated by it. He began to read it. He converted to the gospel before he had met a Mormon. He began sharing the good news with his fellow employees in the office he worked at in Riyadh. You can imagine that wasn’t the best idea in Saudi Arabia, and so pretty soon the religion police had an appointment with him. He decided that he would not stick around for that so he took off. He eventually went to Jordan where he converted a Syrian girl to the Church and he was baptized eventually and came to Australia because the Middle East was not the most hospitable place. I was really impressed when Steve Harper was showing the map of the areas that were covered by the languages that the four volume Saints history was being translated into, almost all the earth was covered except my guys. Did you notice that? There was one area, the Middle East, not covered. Yea, well, so anyway, you can still, in a way, reach the Middle East.
I was in Iran once, for a conference, whereby hangs a tale in and of itself. It’s a very interesting place to be as an American—with “Death to America” painted on all the buildings and that sort of thing, you feel so welcome. I was there with a friend who is now Catholic but was a former Baha’i. The Baha’ís have been persecuted in Iran as being sort of apostate Muslims or something. He was curious to know if his website that he had started as a Baha’i was accessible via computers in Iran. This was quite a number of years ago. So we went on to a foreign ministry computer and he found his Baha’i website; uncensored, sitting there on the Internet. The fact is that we can penetrate barriers that the Church cannot with missionaries simply by putting things up on line in our basements. It’s remarkably easy to do and anybody, anywhere who gets access, except possibly North Korea, can look at those things. So, Every Member a Missionary—“It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.” And you can do this. You may think, “Well, I’m not really good at this.” Everybody can do this and we’re ideally suited to talk to the people in our circles. Because the people in our circles are, by and large, the people we think like and know and understand. A farmer will be a really good spokesman to fellow farmers; an accountant to accountants, an academic to academics, a housewife to housewives. You speak their language. You know where they’re coming from, and something that some highfalutin professor may write may not appeal at all to somebody else who is in a different circumstance, but your voice may be just the one that is needed to reach that person. So if you think that you can’t do it, there are certain people that only you can reach, only you might be able to talk to. So that’s important.
Think of Heber C. Kimball, who was called by the prophet Joseph Smith to open the missionary work in Great Britain. He was terrified, if you know the story. He thought, “My word, who am I, to take the gospel, the message of the restoration to the most civilized country on the planet, the most powerful country on earth, where everybody is so much more…” You know, even in the 1830s, America had a colonial feeling of inferiority to the Brits. If you want to have a classy person, he’s got to speak with a British accent, right? Have you noticed that in Hollywood movies the Romans always speak with a British accent? I can assure you they didn’t actually. They were Italians.
But Heber C. Kimball was terrified because he didn’t think he was capable of doing it. Yet when he arrived in England he was perfectly suited to the mission he was sent on, because England was going through the industrial revolution and the people he was talking to in and around Preston, down in Chatburrough(?). These people were mechanics, the people who were moving into the newly industrializing cities who were just like Heber C. Kimball. Right? I mean if they had sent some intellectual or somebody else, he probably wouldn’t have had any impact at all. Brother Kimball was perfect for that audience. There was an audience that he was perfect for and he was sent directly to them. He found them.
So how are we supposed to do this? The first thing that I would suggest is that we listen. It’s really important to listen to where people are coming from–to understand who they are, what they are, what their concerns are and so on. A perfect example of this, of reaching people where they are, is the speech of Paul on Mars Hill. Do you remember that, where he goes to Mars Hill and [is] speaking to Athenians. Now Paul was ideally suited again to take the gospel around the Mediterranean basin. The Lord choses his instruments well.
Paul was a really devout Jew, educated in the strictest sect of the Pharisees and all that sort of thing but what else was he? He was a Roman citizen, he could go anywhere he wanted and he was bilingual at least. He knew Greek. He could speak Greek and he knew the literature and you see that perfectly well illustrated in his speech on Mars Hill. This was a case where having that intellectual background was useful. He goes up onto Mars Hill, which is shown here in an old photograph, in Acts 17, verses 22-31. And I’m going to quote that passage from the New American Standard Bible. “So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus (Mars Hill) and said, men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects, for while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘To AN Unknown God.’” Now this was their way of covering their bases; maybe there was a god that they hadn’t represented with a statue there. We don’t want to offend anyone by not covering all of them. “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, that I proclaim to you.” He says, “I am here in behalf of that unknown God, the God you don’t know.” He’s not preaching to Bible believers. You can’t even buy a cheap Bible in an Athenian bookstore in the first century, right? They’d never heard of it, they know none of this stuff, he can’t preach to them about what Moses had to say, he can’t talk to them about biblical history. It would mean nothing to them, absolutely nothing. He says, “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all people life and breath and all things, and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they might seek God, perhaps that they might grope for Him and find Him though he is not far from each one of us; for in him, we live and move and exist as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His children.’” Now, what’s he doing here? When he says, “We are also His children,” he is actually quoting a pagan [poet], Aratus of Cillicia, who was actually writing about Zeus. But Paul takes a Poem about Zeus and applies it to the God of the Bible. He’s reasoning with them where they are. Quoting the Bible wouldn’t have meant anything but quoting a poet who is actually from their region, that means a lot to them. He says, “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” You see, he never appeals to the Bible, he listens to them, he pays attention, he walks around, he notices this altar and he says, “That’s what I’m going to latch onto. That’s going to be the basis of my approach.” And that’s what you have to do. You listen first, alright?
Here’s a story relative to that from Alma 18 verses 24 to 28. Very brief. This is the story of Ammon and King Lamoni which I’ve always loved and which I’ve cited here before I think. “And Ammon began to speak unto him [unto King Lamoni the Lamanite] with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God? And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth. And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit? And he said, Yea. And Ammon said: This is God.” Do you see what he’s doing? He’s finding out where Lamoni is and then approaching him on that level. Let’s establish a common language.
Now, I can give you a counter example of that. This is one that’s stayed in my memory for a long time. I don’t know if you’ve ever had experiences—I’ve had a few—where you think, “I should have intervened,” but I didn’t. You feel guilty for years afterwards. “ I should have said something, I didn’t say something.” This is a case where I didn’t know what to do.
We were driving, my family and I, down to California many years ago and we stopped off in St. George for a little bit of a break and thought we’d take the kids in and maybe see a film at the Visitor’s Center or something and give them a little gospel instruction on the way down. And we walked in and sure enough, we watched the movie there in the Visitor’s Center near the St. George Temple.
There was a German couple who were listening to somebody at the counter in the Visitor’s Center and he was speaking to them about Noah’s Ark and the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. When we saw this movie and it was probably, I don’t know, about 10 or 15 minutes long and we came out and he was still haranguing him on Noah’s Ark and how many cubits it was and all that sort of thing. And you could see from their faces—“how do we get out of here? We don’t want to offend this nice old fellow but this is excruciatingly boring,” and I was thinking to myself, “I served a German-speaking mission and could go over”, but I didn’t do it. I thought maybe I could save them. I didn’t do it and for all I know they’re there still. But I thought, “What are they going to take with them from this experience.” We stopped in, we just wanted to learn what this building is and who are the Mormons and now we know everything we never wanted to know about the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. Maybe he moved on to Leviticus and the dimensions of the tabernacle. There are years of work to be done there. I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were there to talk about. [?] I don’t think they ever said a word. They just kept shifting on their feet wondering how to get away and that sort of thing. Anyway, you need to listen to people, you need to be sensitive to them, listen to where they’re coming from. And it’s partially also related to listening to the Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit should tell you, “Shut up. You’ve gone on long enough.” You want to speak in the language they know and that’s not German or French or Chinese or something like that.
Doctrine and Covenants 1:24 says, “…these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.” That’s what we ought to be trying to do as well. Think of Jesus and his parables. He’s trying to talk the Palestinian shepherds and workers of his time on the level that they can understand. He doesn’t use abstruse theological language, he’s not speaking in abstractions, he’s talking about sheep and goats and sheep pens and rocks and rock carvers and all that sort of thing. This is language that ordinary people could understand. It’s very concrete and he’s a wonderful model for us and he’s not the only one.
The man that I consider the greatest Christian apologist of the past hundred years by far is C. S. Lewis.
This is not a common image that you see of him but there he is about to enter the wardrobe, if that means anything to you. I actually stuck my hand in that wardrobe. It’s now in Wheaton, Illinois, of all things by the way, in a little museum there devoted to Lewis and Tolkin and Charles Williams and a couple of others—G.K. Chesterton. There was no one there and the curator of the thing said, “Would you like to stick your hand in?” and I did. But all I hit was the back of the wardrobe. I was hoping for snow, but anyway, C. S. Lewis makes an interesting comment once in one of his lectures. He thought that every theology graduate of Oxford University ought to be required as a kind of senior thesis to do a presentation to a group of RAF mechanics (Royal Air Force mechanics). He said because they take refuge so often in theological abstractions and jargon and so on. If they can’t explain it to a group of intelligent non-academics, and “These RAF mechanics,” he said, “they’re bright. They wouldn’t be mechanics on airplanes if they were stupid. They’re bright, but they’re not academics. If he can’t explain a concept to them, he probably doesn’t understand it himself.” He thought that ought to be part of the examination for every graduate of Oxford in the divinity school there and I think that’s a wonderful rule and of course Lewis was supremely good at that.
Now one of the things we have to know about approaching other people is that we can no longer count on certain common language, not only because sometimes we’re preaching in places like China and so on where the Bible isn’t well-known, but because the biblical language that was common to many Americans two generations ago, three generations ago, they all kind of knew the stories; they all kind of presumed the Bible to be true; even if they didn’t know it; even if they just had a copy and it was untouched in a shrine on their shelf. Never-the-less they paid lip-service to the Bible. You can’t count on that anymore–biblical beliefs–not necessarily so. So you have to again, listen to where they’re coming from.
We need probably to find new language. I think the Church is struggling with this right now. How do we approach people out there in an increasingly post-Christian society even in the United States, certainly in Europe, and in other places throughout the world. How do we approach them; how can we appeal to them?
I would say one suggestion is that the fundament needs that humans have are the same as they always have been. We have to phrase it differently, but everybody has feelings of loneliness, wondering if his or her life has any significance, if there’s any point to the whole thing. All of those questions are still out there. We just need to find different ways to approach them.
Maybe, I think, we need to go back to basic intuitions. The scriptures start off with a very basic one; well, they don’t start off, but you have this passage from Psalms, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” The sheer sense of wonder that people have at the universe is a place where you can sometimes start, because people have this intuition. That may not be a rational argument but this intuition is powerful for many. You see a sunset and you think, “This world can’t be all there is, there’s got to be a point to this. This is just too beautiful.”
Even Carl Sagan, for example, said “Gosh, science can be a source of spirituality.” And he said, “A religion that appeals to that could be the most powerful religion in the world.” I happen to agree with that. I think that’s true; and I think we can tell the story using some of that language, that approach, as well as just the narrowly biblical language that we can use with some audiences.” Do you have a sense of wonder looking at the Milky Way at night? Are you amazed when you look through a microscope and see the orderliness of certain things? Do snow crystals astonish you?” Where can we get you? If you have an intuition that there’s something going on here that may be enough to reach certain people.
Romans 1:20 in the New International Version: “… since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” You can all see it if you open your mind to this.
There are other things that we can do. We can raise troubling, thought-provoking questions. We can try to create doubts about doubts. Hey, people wonder, “Is my worldview totally adequate? Do I have it down?”
I’ve told this story before, I think, but my father was not a member of the Church as I was growing up. I baptized him on the night that I was set apart as a missionary. It was the high point of my mission as far as baptisms went. I remember him telling me that one of the turning points for him was when he began reading some books by Hugh Nibley. I had come under the spell of Hugh Nibley already in high school and he began reading these things, and he’d been around the Church for a long time. He’d married a kind of Mormon in my mother. And he said that one day it just suddenly occurred to him, “Could this possibly be true?” He’d never really thought of that before. But it began to present itself as a real possibility and then the rest was history after that.
Another thing, can we provide hope? I’ve had experiences–many of you have–with losing loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes very painfully, and at moments like that, the gospel offers very real hope. If we find out that people need that kind of hope—I don’t want us to be ghoulish, or vulturish, or that sort of thing. We can sometimes speak to them at those times and offer the comfort that we know the gospel can offer. Christ brings peace, and if we can share that with people they will listen. They may not have been Christians before that or seriously thought about anything, but most people when they hit those moments when something terrible has happened to them and taken them out of their neat life plan and so on, most people are open to at least thinking about something.
Of course, in our society, the society specializes in keeping us busy. I like the line from T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets about how we’re distracted from distraction by distraction. We’re so busy running around that we try not to take time to think. That’s why you want to get them out there occasionally under the Milky Way or at a sunset or looking over the ocean expanse of the sea, just to think. So you have to reach them when they’re ready. They may not always be ready and then you have to listen and realize this in not the time—some other time may be.
When should we do it? We’re told to “be ready always,” in that passage from 1 Peter that I quoted. So, when? Always. You don’t do it always, but you should be ready always. You should always be listening for when the time is right.
There’s also the question of what I call triage. You sometimes have to ask, “Is this person ready right now?” Triage is the principle in medicine where you look at a disaster scene maybe; some people are beyond help–well sorry, we’ve got limited personnel, we just can’t deal with this. Some people need it urgently and some people have a flesh wound and they don’t really need much attention at all. You have to decide. And so we have to be asking ourselves, “Who is ready at this time?” It is not everybody at this time. This is a part of listening, paying attention. But if you keep your eyes open, if you pray for spiritual guidance, you might find people who are ready at a certain time. You might find opportunities when you can say something or do something. There will be times when you feel constrained not to do something. This is not the time. Matthew 7:6, quoting the Savior: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
Maybe you’ve had the experience, I certainly have, of occasionally saying something when the Spirit was kind of telling me, “No, don’t do this” and it just is a disaster. I’ve seen people on Facebook try to share a sacred experience and I think, “No, don’t do this.” There are people out here who will “…turn again and rend you” and it won’t help. So, there are times when you just pass by. “Whosoever shall not receive you,” the Lord says in Matthew 10:14, “nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Just leave. It’s not the right time, the right place. Maybe later on, you don’t know. Avoid the spirit of contention. When it starts getting bad, you know it’s the wrong time. And yet I’ve seen people online especially just keep going because at a certain point the ego kicks in, I’m not going to be defeated by this person. I happen to think that it may be testosterone in a lot of cases—almost never women. They just keep at it and at it and at it and you think that the chance of actually having an impact on this person was lost three hours ago and this has just turned ugly. There’s no point. And there are a lot of people in this world that you could be talking to but not this one, not right now.
I had an experience in Switzerland that was meaningful to me. Early on in my mission there, I went with a companion (I think it was my first week in the mission field) and we hadn’t gotten in any doors and finally we got in one and the fellow brought us in. He just wanted to argue. He just argued and pushed back at every point. But I was thinking that at least we’re in an apartment and we’re talking to somebody. My companion stood up and said, “Thank you very much it’s been great talking with you. We’re going to move on now.” We got outside, and I said, “But Elder so and so, why are we leaving? At least we were talking with him.” Then he said, “Look, there are hundreds of thousands of people in this particular canton of Switzerland who haven’t heard the gospel. We don’t have time for this kind of thing. We have to keep moving.” That was a powerful lesson for me. So when it grows contentious, move along. Little if anything will be gained by sticking around and fighting. Be responsive to the Spirit, to promptings.
I’ve mentioned this before. The really spectacular case is Wilford Woodruff when he was having considerable success in the Staffordshire Potteries and suddenly the Spirit said, “This is the last time you’re going to meet with these people.” Do you remember the story? And he goes to Hertfordshire and there he baptizes hundreds of people on the John Benbow farm, because the harvest was even greater there than in the place that he was leaving. He was shocked at the command but he was receptive to it and so he moved along.
Also, another principle to keep in mind is that you don’t need to die on every hill. Some principles are really important and some are not. If somebody doesn’t like Mormon hymns, fine. It’s not that important. If they don’t like Mormon architecture (“Your chapels are stupid-looking”), fine. It’s not worth arguing about. There are certain issues that are really important and again spend the time where the time is best spent. There are limited numbers of us and millions, billions of people we haven’t reached. Don’t waste time. Be sensitive, move on.
Years ago, my friend Louis Midgley, who, I was very pleased, was honored today, alluded me to an anecdote that the eminent Protestant historian, Martin Marty once used to make a point about Mormonism. The famous 18th Century French hostess Marie de Vichy-Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand, friend to Voltaire and other leading intellectuals of the day, was conversing with the Cardinal de Polignac. And he told her that the martyr, St. Denis, who was the first Christian bishop of Paris, had taken up his head and walked a hundred miles after his execution. Madame du Deffand replied that, “in such a promenade, it is the first step that is difficult.” Now she meant of course, that it’s not the claim that St. Denis walked a hundred miles that poses a difficulty, maybe he only walked 99 miles, we should fight about that. Perhaps he walked a hundred and two, who cares? Those differences don’t mean anything. The fundament question is whether, after his beheading, he walked at all. If that essential point has been granted, then the rest is just a footnote, okay? It’s like that with the gospel, it seems to me. We can argue the branches all the time. And we can go on for years with this, but there are certain fundamental issues that, if granted, pretty well settle the question. You may not like Mormon hymnology or Mormon chapel architecture or something like that, but if you’re convinced that the Lord is guiding the Church, that the Lord revealed the Book of Mormon, and called Joseph Smith, it’s not very important.
I’m particularly preoccupied right now with a particular project that I’ll mention to you. The reason that I missed the first day of this conference is that I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday back in New York and then in Virginia interviewing people for a film project we’re working for the Interpreter Foundation.
The Lord has only given us one set of secular evidence for the Book of Mormon. He didn’t give us archeological data—we find interesting things; nobody is more enthused about that kind of thing than I am. I’ve lectured about it scores and scores of times. But he’s given us one set of evidence and that’s the witnesses. They are prophesied in the Book of Mormon, they are referred to in the Doctrine and Covenants, their testimonies have appeared in every edition of the Book of Mormon since 1830 in every single language. And so it seems to me that we ought to be concentrating on them. And so, one of the projects we’ve undertaken now is to do a major film project about the witnesses, because the story needs to be told. I hear all the time from people who’ve left the Church or who are on their way out of the Church, “Oh, you know, when I found out the witnesses never really claimed to actually see anything with their eyes, they never claimed to hear anything with their ears, they never actually claimed to touch anything with their hands, well, then I just thought to heck with it all.” But that’s not what the witnesses said. And so, I want to tell this story again as powerfully as we can tell it. To make that point. You can still reject their testimony, but you’d better know what the testimony is. Then you can dismiss it if you want. But they talked about seeing with their eyes, holding with their hands, hearing with their ears. They were very forceful about it–you know this. But the story hasn’t been told for a long time. There was one movie that was done fifty years ago this year that was called “The Three Witnesses.” It had a huge impact on me. But it’s fifty years old, nobody watches it. I found it online a year or two ago and watched it, and I thought, “Good grief, it does look half a century old. We need to tell the story afresh, to get that story out there.” So I’m really preoccupied with that–the tangibility of this experience. It is something that—well I was just hearing the other day about one atheist grad student at Stanford, maybe he’s on the faculty at Stanford but I don’t know; who said, “I’m not a Mormon, I’m not even a theist but,” he said, “ the witnesses are the one thing that keep me awake at night.”
Well, they were meant to keep atheists awake at night. They’re meant to keep skeptics awake. They are really difficult to deal with. And I want to put that right out there, okay?
So, you may think, “I can’t do this.” Well the fact is, there’s a role for all of us and there are organizations that are supplying resources. You’ve heard some mention of them at this conference. FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, and now we’ve joined together to some degree. We’re still working out the details of how to come together in a more forceful and effective way as Mormon Voices and you can help with this. I was delighted to hear Elder Pearson talk today. You can imagine why. Everybody can contribute. Everyone can in one way or another. You’re familiar with the passage from 1 Corinthians 12 [verse 17] on this, I’ll quote the NIV version just for freshness, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…” So, you may think, “I can’t do this, I have nothing to contribute.” You can and you do. So, I encourage you to volunteer and if we’re slow on the uptake, volunteer again. Because we’re volunteers ourselves with lots on our plates and things fall between the cracks. I’ve had people unfortunately who’ve written to me saying, “Gee, I’d like to offer my services” and I’ve lost the emails. I feel guilty about that. Please insist. There’s work that can be done. We’re understaffed. It’s hard for us to keep up with what we’re doing and so we need help.
These passages from Numbers [chapter 11] come to mind. This is Moses. Moses is complaining, “I am not able to bear all this people alone because it is too heavy for me… And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone…. And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!” Now I think that’s partly what we heard from Elder Pearson today, that the Church can’t as a church, do it all. It needs the members to do it. It needs organizations like these three and others to do it, and concerned individuals.
Matthew 9, New Testament version of the same message, “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” Well, another thing that you can do besides volunteering and this sounds crass as the head of a foundation I’ve sometimes begun to think of myself as a television evangelist—donate. I will personally pray over every love-gift.
I have a critic, I refer to him as my malevolent stalker, who has been following me for fifteen years manufacturing stories about me and among the things he says about me is that I take in a seven figure apologetic salary from the Church. I love the thought of it. And it’s true, I take in seven figures, they’re all zeroes.
The bi-laws of the Interpreter Corporation, I’m also on the board of Fair, that’s very lucrative too. The bi-laws of the Interpreter Foundation allow me to draw up to five hundred dollars annually in compensation or salary. I think there are four of us or five of us who are allowed to draw that amount. None of us has ever done it. Several of us are donors. Anyway, if you donate enough, I’ve always wanted platinum bathroom fixtures.
These organizations are often cash-strapped. It has been a struggle. There have been times when FairMormon was in serious trouble, facing difficulties and these organizations need help and Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central, I know we’re all facing you know–we’re not in crisis but the funds are not infinite. So, that’s just a nudge.
Alright, another thing I would say is share things with us. Share the things that we do or good things that you see online. Share Mormon moments, this isn’t all about the three organizations I’ve just mentioned. The Church is putting out videos to be shared on blogs, online, on Facebook with friends, shared with your family members, and so on. There’s good stuff. Book of Mormon Central materials that you can share, Interpreter articles, things from this conference. Help people to know that there are answers. Quite often the feeling that people have is that they’re alone. If they are hit with a dilemma or with a problem, with a challenge to their faith, they just think, crazily or not, that there’s just nobody else who has ever dealt with this. But quite often there is somebody who has dealt with it. There are good materials available. But we don’t get the word out. People don’t hear about these things. They haven’t heard of these organizations. They don’t know that resources are available. People need to tell them and we can’t do all the telling; it has to be word-of-mouth in many cases. When you go back to your wards, to somebody who is struggling, say, “I know of something that might be helpful to you.” Talk about these things. Tell them.
Also write yourself, share your testimony. Do whatever you can. Elder Pearson mentioned the fact that most of the world has never heard of Latter-day Saints and of those who have heard, a substantial proportion, half or more have negative impressions of us. One of the things that most overcomes those negative impressions is knowing a Latter-day Saint. Now in my case that wouldn’t work, if they got to know me. My online reputation is totally accurate, in fact, for several blocks around my house it’s just a wasteland. But for most Latter-day Saints, if you get to know them, they’re actually decent people, they’re normal, they’re not weird. Well, anyway, every ward has some of those too. It helps if they get to know us. It helps; he said the personal touch. Put something online about your personal experience. You don’t have to preach. Just tell about your life. Just let people know what it’s like to be a Latter-day Saint. Share your testimony whatever way you can. Get to know people; be open and forthright with them. You can even bring up the Church in conversation. Just say, “I’m going off to Utah. People will often ask, “Really, Utah? Do you have connections in Utah?” “I have family there.” ”Are you a Mormon?” And off you go. But you don’t have to do too much. Just a little bit. And the conversations will go as they go. If you’re sensitive you won’t push it too much. But if they ask questions, you can answer them.
I just want to say that it’s important for us to bear our testimonies at all times and in every way we can. Now this is one of my favorites and then I’ll be done. Mercifully. My favorite argument against the witnesses, the best one I’ve ever seen is someone who wrote to me once saying, (and I may have mentioned this before, I apologize if I repeat it, but I love it), he said, “David Whitmer, who is one of the last surviving witnesses, only kept telling the story he did because he knew that if he spilled the beans, Brigham Young would have him rubbed out.” You know there’s an obvious fallacy with this which is Brigham Young died in 1877 and David Whitmer died in 1888. So he had 11 years where he should have felt fairly secure. But he went on telling the story. But here’s the real clincher, when David Whitmer died, look at his tomb, David Whitmer there on the right side, and then it says, “The record of the Jews and the record of the Nephites are one. Truth is eternal.” David Whitmer wanted to bear his testimony beyond the grave. And he’s doing it in many ways, but including that tombstone. After 1888 when David Whitmer’s dead, he really should be feeling secure from Brigham Young. He didn’t have to do this, he could have left a note saying, “By the way, it was all made up, it was all a lie.” But he doesn’t do that. He wanted to bear his testimony as widely as he could and he did. He’s a model for us in that regard.
And so you can help out in this cause in so many ways: missionary fund, all those sorts of things, but also by volunteering, by donating to these organizations, by writing, If you feel like writing, for one of our groups, for Interpreter for example. I don’t control the peer review process. They once rejected the man that I home taught. That was a really uncomfortable home teaching visit. He’d just gotten the news that day. The first line when I walked in was “Why did you reject my article?” (which I had encouraged him to submit, by the way). It was very embarrassing. But any way, if you want to write something, consider writing it. Submit it. Put it up online, whatever you want to do. But everyone needs to be involved in this. If you’re a committed believer, that’s one of our responsibilities. I bear you my testimony that it is and that there are ways for us to do it now that never existed for our ancestors. If you lived in the mountain valleys of Utah, you couldn’t reach the people in Nepal, but you can now. You can reach people all around the world. It’s an exciting time in that regard. The Internet has been used extensively against Mormonism, against the Latter-day Saints, but it doesn’t have to be that way, we can turn the tide. We have the capacity and most of us the dedication. We can do it and I bear you that testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Q & A
Q 1: Is Mary Whitmer going to be represented in the video you’re working on?
A 1: Absolutely, yes. There are several unofficial witnesses to the Book of Mormon and I want their testimonies in the project too.
Q2: What future projects are on the docket for Interpreter and apologetics?
A2: Well, one thing is to keep churning out the articles. We set out initially to do an article every week for two or three weeks. We wanted to establish a presence. As of tomorrow, we will be celebrating our sixth birthday. We have published an article every Friday, at least one, sometimes two, and occasionally three. It was two today. Every week for six years. Which blows me away. We’ve created a monster now. I think to myself, if we ever miss a week, I know the critics, they’ll say, “Hah, we knew they’d fail.” So, we just have to keep doing it. But we have books. We have this new book available out there, I think now. This just came out, hot from the press and we’ve got other books and conferences we want to do and just keep the articles going and lots of projects. Again, partially it’s contingent on funding.
Q3: Like Elder Pearson, I think there’s a problem with the word apologetics. Why not rename it to Foundation for Answers, Information, and Research?
A3: Well, they’ve actually renamed it already, it’s FairMormon. They–I’m on the board–so we don’t use Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research anymore because we realized that was a problem. But we try to go to other terms, well “defense of the faith.” Then people want to know why are you so defensive? So, it’s hard to know. Apologetics, outside of Mormonism is a really widely used term. We just don’t use it much in the Church. But I’ve had several people including General Authorities say you’ve got to drop that. I mean Elder Pearson today. Other General Authorities have said it’s not a good word. Well if we can come up with a better one, we’ll do it.
Q4: How can we join with Evangelicals so we can accomplish more in the social, political culture?
A4: AKA Eric Metaxas, great writer. Well, I think we’re trying to do that more and more and one of the ideas I’ve had for a conference is, I would like to get together with some Evangelical philosophers and Catholic philosophers and thinkers that I know, because a lot of us are dealing with the same issues; we differ on certain specifics but we’re all facing an increasingly secularized culture. And so I think we could learn a lot from each other talking [about] those sorts of things–how can we deal with that? If some of the people there can overcome their objections to being in the same room with a Latter-day Saint (I know some who probably could), then we might be able to do something really, really interesting in that regard that might be useful–just sort of brainstorm together.
Q5: How can you handle all the criticism you receive? Don’t you get discouraged at times?
A5: You have to be really thick skinned. I admit sometimes it astonishes me. It really does astonish me how obsessive some people are. I’ve become sort of a lightning rod. I don’t know why but I get it. Charming personality… that’s it. Usually I don’t get discouraged, because I think, “Why didn’t I study abnormal psychology? Some of this is just distinctly weird.” This malevolent stalker that I talk about, I don’t know who he is, I don’t think we’ve ever met. He’s never given any indication that we know each other or had a personal interaction. He’s been at it for 15 years. Fifteen years! I mean every week, most days, I get obscene emails, I suspect from him, most weeks, sometimes three and four. I just don’t get it. It’s been going on for a long time. Anyway, distinctly weird.
Q6: Elder Pearson questioned the word “apologetics” because it’s misunderstood by most people.
A6: What to do? Well we’re always looking for better ways of expressing it. I talk about what we’re doing as defending and commending the gospel or the claims of the Restoration. Advocating the gospel, the claims of the Restoration or something like that. Something catchy would be nice.
Q7: Most understand the prophets are human and are subject to making mistakes. If we are to rely on the Spirit as the main source of truth and discernment, how do we avoid becoming selectively obedient to the words of prophets?
[D. P.: That’s a really good question.]
How do you propose we teach other to follow the prophets with confidence if their teachings today can be disavowed in the future. For example, explanations for the priesthood ban.
A7: This goes beyond the time I have to discuss it here. On the whole, I think it’s safe to trust the prophets. I think you’re okay. You know if the prophet is wrong, it’s not going to be something in most cases like “Kill your neighbor”. You’re not going to do something too seriously wrong. The priesthood ban, well, that’s a complex issue. I am puzzled by the priesthood ban. I don’t say that it was instituted by revelation. This is going to get me in trouble. But I’m puzzled by an account that I read in Greg Prince’s David O. McKay and the Beginnings [Rise] of Modern Mormonism or whatever it’s called. He tells of an occasion where David O. McKay came into his office one morning and said, “Well, I’m never going to do that again.” And [Prince] asked him, “What?” He had brought up the question of the priesthood ban with the Lord and felt that he had been reamed out basically. That the Lord had told him, “I’m going to change it, but not during your time. You’ve asked me this often enough. Now stop it.” And he said, “Okay, that’s it. I’m not going to do it again.” So, why it wasn’t changed before it was changed, I don’t know. But I think the situation was a little more complex in my view, than to simply say it was a mistake. It could have even started as a mistake, I don’t know. But for some reason it was not supposed to end until it did end; or something like that. At least, the evidence seems to me to suggest that. So I think even in that case, you’re okay if you follow the prophets until 1978 and then on June 9th or June 10th you’re okay if you follow the prophets immediately thereafter because they received the word of God. So, I think you’re safe in following the prophet. I learned that in Primary.
Q8: Rightfully so, you invited us to preach, promote, and defend the faith, how can we avoid bad apologetics? I’ve come across popular LDS blogs that seek to do good but are criticized by more scholarly members. Just how informed and learned does one need to be to engage in good apologetics?
A8: Well, there’s no easy answer to that one. Just try not to go beyond what you know. Your speculations are not going to do the Church much good. It’s better not to put out bad apologetics. It’s better to be silent than to put out bad arguments that can be shot down. Be really careful about that and be careful in the things that you pass on. There are some theories out there that are circulating that I think aren’t going to last and people who depend on them, I won’t name them, but people who depend on them will eventually find out that they’re wrong and then what I worry about is what will happen to their testimonies when they base their testimonies too much on a theory that turns out to be false and unjustifiable. There’s not a neat rule on that. This is another one I could go on. You could check to see if this author has written for Interpreter. If he or she has then it’s okay. If not, wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole. That’s not serious. Please don’t report that as a serious suggestion.
Thank you very much, and thank you everybody for coming.