“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.”
If the primary purpose of websites such as this is to build and strengthen faith, I would hope that my own personal life and my attempts to serve others as best I can are a much stronger testament than anything I might write or say.
Michael T. Benson is the fifteenth President of Southern Utah University and holds the rank of Full Professor within the Department of Political Science. Prior to his current position, Michael served as President of Snow College and, age thirty-six at the time of his appointment in 2001, is the youngest university or college president in the history of the Utah System of Higher Education. He also served as special assistant to the President at the University of Utah, a cabinet-level position on that campus.
In addition to various board assignments and community service, Michael is a member of the seven-person Utah Appellate Court Nominating Commission and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council for Education in Washington, D.C.
Author of numerous journal articles, Benson also wrote Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel (Praeger, 1997). He has served as an academic advisor and essayist for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, and as a consulting historian to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Michael has worked and studied in England and Israel and is regularly sought after for lectures on the modern Middle East and the American presidency.
A cum laude graduate of Brigham Young University with a degree in political science, English, and history, Michael completed a doctorate in modern Middle Eastern History from the University of Oxford (St. Antony’s College). He also earned a master’s degree cum laude from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame in non-profit administration.
Michael served a full-time mission to Rome, Italy, and currently teaches Gospel Doctrine in the Cedar City 9th Ward. He is married to Debi Woods and is the father of five children: Emma, Samuel, Truman, Tatum, and Talmage.
Posted December 2010