Note to the reader: The “letter” which follows is fictitious. It is merely a device which I have used to facilitate my writing about myself—something which I find very difficult to do. However, the things which I have written as my testimony of the Divinity of Christ as our only Savior and Redeemer, God as the Father of us all, and the Holy Ghost as the universal testifier of truth; of the restoration of the Gospel of Christ and of its priesthood, covenants, and associated ordinances as Joseph Smith said it was; of the Holy Scriptures; and of the unbroken continuity of the Restored Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ, are not fictitious. They are facts.
I was very happy to receive your welcome letter last week. Since you and Kathleen moved to Ontario it has seemed as though I have lost a brother. The last time I heard from you, you had two children; how wonderful it is that you have added two more. Kathleen was a born mother; and no children could have a better father. I am also very glad to know that your career as an optometrist is flourishing. As sad as I was about your decision to move east, it is now obvious that the professional opportunity with which you were presented was indeed too good to pass up. Congratulations!
I admire you so much that I am not surprised to learn that, when two young Mormon missionaries (bright eyed and shining with cleanliness) rang your door bell, you and Kathleen invited them in. You wrote that you did it out of curiosity—that although you and I had spoken about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you were not interested in religion at the time. But now, you write, with four children to raise in the midst of social and personal confusion, you wanted to know something about what we spoke of years ago. I know that you and Kathleen follow things through to their conclusion, so I wasn’t surprised either when you wrote “things quickly moved from our being merely curious” to your being intrigued by what you were hearing and reading. You have mentioned that the missionaries tell you they have “testimonies” and that you and your family have attended church, including two “testimonial meetings”. Not surprisingly, you have found the gospel to be unified and consistent, that it “stands up to life’s tough questions”, and that, as far as you can tell, Latter-day Saints are decent and happy people. Your assessment is, I assure you, correct. Then you add:
However, the claims of Joseph Smith appear so fantastic—seeing God, gold plates out of the ground “coincidentally” near to where he was living, translating the plates using a stone in his hat, angels appearing to him to give him God’s priesthood, and on and on—that as a thinking man I don’t know how one can believe in such things. But I know you do. As a scholar of experience how can you swallow all this?
That’s a fair question, Douglas, and it deserves a fair answer.
Let me first of all thank you for believing that a lawyer can be a scholar. In my profession we are short of compliments, and I do appreciate that one. I concede that not all lawyers qualify as scholars—the car crash lawyers, those who spend their days filling out mortgages and other instruments of oppression, and also the flood of young people who enter the profession with nothing in mind but “to make a killing”. However, high court judges are indeed scholars. Further, when one is as fortunate as I have been to qualify as an advocate before the courts, literally in every kind of law suit (other than tax and patents), for clients ranging from government, to multi-national corporations in the Fortune 500, to indigent who have no money and have lost their rights, one does become, and needs to be come, a scholar. I have been required to master where laws have come from, how they got here and why, whether they are fair and just or in need of change, and then to write the equivalent of a master’s thesis giving and justifying my conclusions. I must then give it to another scholar who is determined to find flaws in my work, and then I have to defend it before a panel of judges whose questions make the defense of a thesis seem like a pleasant chat. And, as a scholar, I am expected to present the law fully, whether for me or against me, because my duty is not “to win” but to make sure that my client’s case has had the best possible presentation before an impartial judiciary. My obligation with respect to my testimony of the gospel is no different.
First, let me clear our minds about something. You wrote asking how I, “as a scholar”, could believe that which I most certainly do, and asking if I really “have a testimony”. Douglas, there is only one thing more remarkable about a Mormon scholar testifying as compared to the humblest Latter-day Saint who does the same, and that thing is the very high improbability that a scholar will approach God and the subject at hand with as much humility, faith, and innocence as the poor and needy generally possess in abundance. In short: it would be an error to say “well, that or the other renowned scholar knows ‘The Church is true’; and if a smart man or woman knows it, everyone should listen up and have a testimony, too.” Were one to mention it all, the accurate statement would be “well, even that renowned scholar has been able to find out it’s true. If even he can muster the humility, desire, and faith to set all he knows about (physics, Elizabethan poetry, anthropology—even law) on the shelf for a minute, and ask God to tell him if he has been missing ultimate truth for many years, and be told he has, then I should be able to do it, too.”
Douglas, I know that what was written by the humble writers of the Gospels constitutes things as they really were. It is impossible, by any process known or knowable to mankind, for a dead body to rise and live again. Nevertheless, either the Gospel writers or their close associates saw it happen. It galvanized their lives and led them to martyrdom. I have read, many times, the account in the Gospel of John of John and Peter running to the tomb, John arriving first but standing aside as Peter looked in, and the description of what they saw. Had I become a passably decent but irreligious man, knowing what I know scholastically, and were I now reading those verses for the first time, I would be deeply troubled because, in ways that have taken me decades to learn and for which there is not space here to describe, I know that is eyewitness testimony. And the implications are staggering. Jesus Christ rose from the dead; he was the Son of God; he told the truth about his ministry, doctrine, and atonement; and were I to have had a spark of integrity I would have been impelled to find out where Jesus is now and what he is doing.
To testify is to declare what one knows to be things as they really are. When one testifies, whether in court or in church, he assumes an unqualified obligation to know about that which he is saying. In the hypothesis I have given, I would have been able to testify, based solely upon reading those passages, that what is written in John happened.
My testimony is that when Joseph Smith told about the restoration of the Gospel, authority, the church, covenants, ordinances, and doctrines of Christ, he told us things as they really are. How do I know that? Because, starting from that small place, I have experienced it all.
When I was seventeen and knew everything, including that there was no god, my father, unusually, had to be out of town for work on a Sunday. Before he left he told me that if I would take my mother, who didn’t drive, to stake conference, I could have use of the car for the rest of the day. It was an “offer I couldn’t refuse”.
I know precisely where we sat during that conference. I clearly remember (then) Elder Spencer W. Kimball speaking. But most of all I remember Art McMullin, a counselor in the stake presidency and a man widely known for his honesty, acumen, integrity, and ability. He said that he knew that the restored gospel was true. After he concluded I had one of the few logical thoughts of my youth: “Art McMullin would not lie; and he says he knows. If that man says he knows, he knows; and if I have any sense I ought to look into this.” I did. I returned to activity; and to the extent I have been privileged to so do, I have given my life to that knowledge. In the course of it, as a student, a young husband, an unprepared but willing father, and a lawyer, and in forty years of uninterrupted service, I have experienced the truth. Joseph Smith’s declarations, the angels, the miracles, the operation of the Holy Ghost, the Bible and the Book of Mormon and other scripture, are not fantastic nor fantasy. They have played themselves out in my life, and in the lives of every member of my family, and in the lives of countless others whom I know intimately. They have proven themselves to be things as they really are.
Douglas, I have also seen the consequences to themselves and their fellow man of engaging in the pseudo-sophisticated dismissal of the divine and the prideful and preposterous improvisations of the willfully ignorant or scholastically challenged who will believe anything but God, to an extreme which defies even the myths of the enigmatic Enlightenment and its miasma of misery. They may shave with Occam’s Razor, but it is foreign to their philosophy. A gifted writer and academic who actually read the Book of Mormon and concluded that it was at home in the ancient Middle East, prefers the phantasmagoria that in some unexplained way Joseph Smith was able to tap into the minds and cultures of ancient and foreign peoples of the 3rd to 1st millennia rather than accept the obvious: God did it.
There are, Douglas, an abundance of pioneers of thought who dispose of the faith of otherwise apparently functional people who believe in the Restored Gospel by attributing it to the willful suspension of disbelief—the stuff of magic shows—or the much more authoritative-sounding cognitive dissonance. What do these speculators make of physicists who insist upon the existence of electro-magnetically invisible dark matter, and of black energy, and the inexplicable but observable phenomena of quantum physics—in which, for example, something, somehow, seems to travel faster than light. The current counter-hypothesis is that the reality of these things exists only in one’s mind, thus enabling an individual to live in several universes almost at the same time. And all of this is a flight from an unvarnished, intellectually and spiritually convincing truth: God did what Joseph Smith said he did.
Just after dawn, in the Enlightenment, the Royal Society was founded with the motto: Nullius in verba, roughly, “take no one’s word for it”. It has been proven bad advice, and wrong in fact. It mandates, of course, that no one should learn from a teacher, pay any attention to a Michelin map of France or the Tax Acts, and it ultimately requires that one accept nothing that one hasn’t proven to one’s self—becoming a sort of Enlightenment Aristotle, knowing all there is to be known because nothing one doesn’t know is knowable.
The injunction doesn’t work in practice, either. Even the founders of the Royal Society will have had to face that when, told they were about to die, they did. What right does it leave me to know about God? Ipso facto, I shouldn’t even believe him; and no one should believe anything said about or for him or of him unless or until one sees God himself—and then, when one does, no one should believe it. Nullius in verba. This dismal view of the accumulation of cultural, scholastic, and scientific knowledge is nothing, Douglas, but a license to believe whatever one chooses and to ignore that which is inconvenient (that smoking causes cancer, for example, until one is about to die from it, and then believe it only provisionally.) The Royal Society would have been better off with: “in matters of consequence, trust only the trustworthy”.
But whom can you trust? Easy. You can trust God, he who has been shoved under the carpet and willfully ignored or expunged. It is He who is the life and mind of man: he who created us and the minds many use to shut him out. Douglas, I am very grateful for my life. It is more than I ever expected. Through the last forty years of it I have offered many prayers, exerted much faith, repented of many sins, and surrendered much stubbornness. For the last twenty years, that accumulated experience is now my testimony, my telling of things as they really are and as I know them to be. But, Douglas, it all began for me with a single hope, a little faith, and one prayer at my bedside when I was seventeen—and my actual or reputed scholarship hasn’t been able to alter the result.
So, dear friend, trust anyone who through experience knows what you can know through experience. For when you know as much about the Restored Gospel, or the Book of Mormon, for example, as you could know, you will know it is as impossible for a scholar as it is for an unemployed assembly-line worker to deny what he has experienced.
Philip was one of the first to experience who Jesus was. He ran to Nathaniel, who may have been a brother, but certainly a friend, and told him they had found the Lord. The Royal Society would have been proud of Nathaniel’s answer: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” They would not have liked the answer: [“Well”] said Philip. “Come and see.”
Please give my expressions of love and fond memories to Kathleen, and may you both now “come and see”. You will be eternally glad you did.
All the best;
Robert B. White, Q.C. (Queen’s Counsel), earned a B.Comm. in Finance, with Distinction, and then graduated with an LL.B., with Distinction/Silver Medal, receiving both degrees from the University of Alberta.
He has been engaged as counsel in litigation for his entire career, having represented clients and cases including the government of Alberta; Canada’s largest integrated oil company; one of the world’s largest car manufacturers; the largest oil sands company in Canada; a family without funds (in the first case in which a Canadian court ordered a school board to make accommodation for a physically challenged child); one of Canada’s largest chartered banks; one of Canada’s largest life insurance companies; a group of neighbors who had been seriously let down by their municipal government; Canada’s largest communications group; the Alberta Human Rights Commission; a school board; a bio-technology company; an indigent hospital orderly charged with the murder of two patients; and lawyers, doctors, accountants, and engineers before professional disciplinary tribunals.
He has been lead counsel in major criminal cases involving murder, arson, conspiracy, and fraud; medical and legal malpractice litigation; municipal property taxation appeals; complex estate litigation; cases concerning the meaning of the Constitution; cases in numerous aspects of environmental law; international child custody disputes; construction law cases; public inquiries and inquiries under the CCAA; shareholders’ disputes; utility arbitrations; royalty arbitrations; and the negotiation of specialist fees for medical doctors.
His practice has taken him to many administrative tribunals, municipal councils, professional discipline boards, and arbitration panels; the Provincial Court of Alberta; the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta; the Alberta Court of Appeal; the Supreme Court of The Yukon Territory; the Supreme Court of Saskatchewan; the Federal Court Trial Division; the Federal Court Appeal Division; and the Supreme Court of Canada.
The author of several journal articles and of six volumes from Canada Law Book (The Art of Discovery, The Art of Trial, The Art of Using Expert Evidence, The Appeal Book, How to Be an Effective Trial Witness: DVD and Workbook, and Effective Corporate Witness at Discovery: DVD and Workbook), he taught as a sessional lecturer in the University of Alberta Faculty of Law for eighteen years, in the Bar Admission Course, and in a head-start program for First Nation students, and has lectured at legal education society seminars in Alberta and British Columbia.
Widely recognized as one of the leading lawyers in Canada, Robert B. White was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1986.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he has served as a missionary, a bishop, a stake president, and a member of the quorums of the Seventy. Currently, he’s serving yet again as a bishop.
Posted October 2011