With some hesitation I make a belated confession. I am not sure if or what I am to write.
Navigating between belief and knowledge is tricky. Well, at least tricky for me. When considering my testimony of Jesus Christ or of his Gospel, I have attempted not to rely on the newest facts or documents found in my research of early Mormonism. And that choice lies at the core of the paths I navigate.
My belief in the divinity of Christ, his infinite atonement, and the restoration of his Gospel is not rooted in facts. It has been found in a quiet morning on a business trip in Cleveland while reading my “travel” Book of Mormon, or while praying to help my missionary companion from Monticello gain his own testimony, or in the solitude of the Sacred Grove. My testimony travels a path of feelings, fragile at times, but inescapably real. When those feelings wane and fears of uncertainty creep in, I find my way back through pondering the things I believe—centered in the Book of Mormon. I don’t seek knowledge at those moments but the unique tranquility of the Spirit. This path is not littered with pseudo-intellectualism (most often of my own making). My study of history, even Mormon history, does not give me a superior advantage to these feelings or beliefs. My testimony is not of history—even Joseph Smith’s history. My testimony is the feelings of gratitude, unworthiness, faith, and love for a Savior. I believe. I honestly and simply believe.
My study of the life of Joseph Smith has resulted in knowledge. The historical record carefully examined reveals the integrity of the man. I have come to love and respect him as a prophet. Placed in context we find a compelling story—messy at times, but compelling. We find the vibrancy of inspiration coupled with the complexities of living at a time of great opportunity and implicit hardships. Within the early Mormon experience the consequences of ego can be seen in ironic tandem and competition with community building. As I travel on this path of gaining historical knowledge, using the aggregate of facts recounted through faded manuscripts, I develop skills to vet out speculation, exaggeration, and misdirection. While these facts can be interpreted into various narratives, I cling to the primary sources, allowing them to shape the story. This adventure is fascinating. It challenges my intellectual capacities and permits me to delve into nuances hidden by both time and agenda. I find myself on a unique path to tell the truth. Knowledge is indeed power.
Your inquiry for my testimony raises the question as to whether you want me to discuss what I know or what I believe. They are vastly different to me. One is acquired by time and work, while the other is a gift. One is lifted by aspiration or recognition. The other only survives by humility. I work to navigate between the two.
I am a believer and I am a historian.
Raised in Michigan, Jeffrey N. Walker served in the Canada-Montréal Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon his return, he completed a B.S. from Western Michigan University, magna cum laude. He then earned a J.D., cum laude, from the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University, where he served as an editor for the BYU Law Review. He practiced in Los Angeles with one of the largest west coast law firms before joining the Salt Lake City law firm of Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough. He has worked as general counsel for a regional healthcare company, as a national consultant for Lexis/Nexis, and as a founding partner of the law firm Holman & Walker. He is the president and co-owner of Western Architectural Services, a thematic manufacturing company located in Draper, Utah; and a co-founder of the national watch store chain, Precision Time.
Jeffrey Walker is currently the associate managing editor and the series manager of the Joseph Smith Papers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the co-editor for the Papers’ legal and business series. He is also a trustee and treasurer for the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and the managing editor of the journal Mormon Historical Studies. Currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Church History and Doctrine and in the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, he teaches courses on Joseph Smith and the law.
He is married to the former Elizabeth Hepburn, and they have four children, three dogs, four cats, and two grandchildren.
Posted March 2011