I grew up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My dad’s family has pioneer roots and my mom joined the Church with her family as a young teenager. Although I have vivid memories of spiritual feelings associated with singing hymns about Jesus Christ at a very young age, my own personal conviction of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ seemed to settle over me as I grew up. When I was serving as a missionary for the Church, I realized more definitively that what I had learned about the Church was true and the most important part of my life. A pattern I’ve identified in my life is that moments of spiritual enlightenment accompany serious study and efforts to reach out in helpfulness to others.
I have always believed that education, formal and informal, was just what Latter-day Saints did. That fit comfortably with my bookish personality. As a missionary and student, I began to recognize that the scriptures and teaching of Church leaders actually endorsed a more demanding standard of excellence in learning and scholarship and that these were to be accompanied by moral excellence. This thought has been helpful to me in my career on the fringes of academia but also in my efforts at personal discipleship.
My choice of personal scholarly focus has been influenced by the Church’s emphasis on the importance and eternal nature of family. I am convinced that the Church’s teachings about the family are bolstered by empirical research and the accumulated wisdom of human experience. In my academic work, I have also experienced spiritual insights that supplemented my research and writing on family issues. A number of times I have found an important scholarly source through a reference in a talk or article by one of the Church’s General Authorities. I believe that the Church’s teachings and practices enhance scholarly pursuits and are themselves worthy subjects for scholarly enquiry. I think that enquiry supports my essentially spiritual witness that the Church and its teachings have a divine source.
I love being a member of the Church. I love the community that comes with membership. I love the teachings of the Church and believe them completely. I love studying the scriptures. I love the opportunities to try to help others that come from formal Church responsibilities and the less formal, but more important, effort to follow the example of Jesus Christ. I love the Church’s leaders. I have found that they are personally committed to learning and that they combine that commitment with moral qualities of humility, kindness, and devotion to others. I love that the Church’s commitment to families is deep and profound and eminently practical.
One thing I have found particularly powerful is the Book of Mormon’s consistent message that each of us can experience a “mighty change of heart.” I know that this is true. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, no one has to be trapped by what they are today. We can aspire to and achieve real nobility and moral excellence and we can draw on the enabling help of the Savior to do so. This truth has made all the difference in the world for me.
Bill Duncan is the director of the Marriage Law Foundation. He received his law degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. After graduation, he worked at the Columbus School of Law of the Catholic University of America in the Law and Religion Institute’s program, the Marriage Law Project. He served as a visiting professor in the BYU law school and now teaches courses in Family Law to BYU undergraduates as an adjunct professor. He also teaches a Constitutional Law course for American Heritage School. He has edited two books and has published dozens of articles for legal journals, including the Rutgers Law Review, Stanford Review of Law & Politics, Ave Maria Law Review, and many others.
Posted July 2010