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!
I am a professor in the department of religion at Brigham Young University—Idaho. My dissertation is now a published book, entitled Social Ethics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Analysis and Critique.
Posted December 2009