Insights on the Nativity and the New TestamentEpisode 39
The Book of Mormon Begins . . .
God's Armor for Investigators
Defending against the utterly defensible arguments of "anti-Mormons".
Welcome to our fortieth episode here at ForeverLDS. A nice milestone, considering that the average lifespan of a podcast is between 3 and 8 episodes. It’s been fun. It’s been rewarding for me personally, and we’ve received heartwarming feedback from listeners.
Two caveats for the title and subtitle of this episode. As for the title—“God’s Armor For Investigators”—an investigator can be a non-"Mormon" as well as a lifetime member of the faith. If you’re investigating—seeking knowledge and understanding regarding the history and doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—you qualify. As for the subtitle, let it be known that dissenters of the faith are no longer allowed to call themselves anti-Mormons. You are anti-Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintists. There. That ought to change hearts and minds. Wishful thinking, I know.
Those who resent, or fear, or wish to expose, or undermine our faith are gonna call us whatever they want. But our Prophet, as well as rather explicit verses in the Book of Mormon and in other scriptures, direct us to reject any other moniker except the one that Christ Himself gave us. What even is a “Mormon?” If you think about it, there’s no such thing and never was. The last person who would want us to use that name would have been the Prophet Mormon. He’s the one who included in his abridgement the Savior’s own words which are, “. . .ye shall call the church in my name . . . For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church . . . (3 Ne: 27:7,8).” The Prophet Mormon would have been very disappointed to learn that his monumental efforts to preserve the doctrine of Christ and the ancient records of his people only served to establish a Church that went by his own name—Mormon’s own name. (??)
As President Nelson reminded us, “In the early days of the restored Church, terms such as Mormon Church and Mormons—were often used as epithets—as cruel terms, abusive terms—designed to obliterate God’s hand in restoring the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days.”
A bit of a history reminder. When I was first baptized into the Church in 1981, it was not uncommon for members to correct you if you referred to them as Mormons. The first girl I dated at BYU corrected me when I used that name. Was I offended? I don’t remember feeling that. She was so kind and forthcoming in the way she went about it that I considered the moment educational, not offensive.
I realize that over the past decade or two as the restored Gospel has transformed into a truly international church—alongside the explosion of the internet—some in the bureaucracy decided apparently, “Well, if you can’t beat ‘em—if that’s the name people wanna use when referring to us—we better join ‘em. Let’s embrace it.” If that’s the case, and I don’t think that characterization is accurate—our modern prophet, as prophets often do, has presented us with an inspired correction. Does that mean other modern prophets made a mistake not to correct it earlier? No. As I said, the point has been emphasized before. Our Church leaders have never liked it.
Then why did we buy and develop the domain name Mormon.org, etc.? What’s interesting is if you type Mormon.org or Mormon.com or LDS.org into your search bar, the page that comes up is titled The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You don’t see “Mormon Church” anywhere. It’s just a domain address for search engines. Quite literally, those who want to search up info about Mormons are immediately informed that this isn’t the name of our Church. We also own templesquare.com, but we don’t call ourselves the Temple Square Church.
I’m sure we can point to other examples wherein our members have let this emphasis slip, and have not been as bold as President Nelson. However, stamped upon every example that I have seen—books, DVDs, or other things authorized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there’s an immediate caveat, right from the get-go, clarifying that “Mormon Church” is a nickname and telling people what our Church is officially named. Our prophet, in this bustling information age, has merely sharpened the point, re-notifying the world, that we reject any moniker that does not proclaim this to be the Church of Jesus Christ.
With that in mind I wanted to discuss the topic of what is commonly called anti-Mormonism, either individuals who embrace the label of being “anti-Mormon” or the literature and media that they produce and distribute which seeks to persuade or discourage those who want to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As I indicated, I’m a convert. I did not join until I was an official adult, by about four months. And yet I had to navigate this all-too familiar phalanx of anti-Mormons and their literature even back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Here’s what some mind find surprising: Not much has changed.
Even then, anti-Mormons were very effective at circulating their information, without the internet, without social media, without the seemingly new vast array of additional mediums of dissemination. I read anti-Mormon pamphlets, I was given anti-Mormon literature, I had long discussions, I joined hands with others in prayer circles formed in an effort to defend my soul against the evils of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All of this happened at the same time that I was pondering whether to attend BYU, and subsequently had my application accepted, and received a scholarship from BYU’s Theatre and Cinematic arts department. Those who’ve been through the process of attending BYU know that the bureaucracy takes over a year—back then even as it does now. And despite the barrage of anti-Mormon literature and sentiments that I received, I don’t resent those friends, neighbors, and co-workers who were acting out of sincere concern for the welfare of my soul. In fact, it was as a result of their influence—many who I’d known or been associated with for most of my life—that I received a conviction that Jesus was the Christ.
I remember the moment. I was a Sophomore in High School. I was alone, washing pots and pans at the Irma Hotel and Restaurant in Cody, Wyoming, pondering the whole topic of religion in general and it just struck me—it overcame me—that Jesus Christ really was who He said He was. He was the Son of God. The Savior of the World. It was an extraordinary feeling. I was washing pots and pans!
I can’t remember if this was before or after I had the experience of attending a summer Youth Conference while visiting my friend, Eric Vesterby, in El Jebel, Colorado, near Aspen. Those who have heard my entire conversion story know that the first time I felt what I could clearly define as the Holy Spirit was during that Youth Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. One of the speakers at that conference was Brent Yorgason, another author whose works were intended for readers of the Church of Jesus Christ, who years later I reconnected with and had the honor to get to know on more personal basis, and who, unfortunately for us, but fortunate for him, passed on to the next life a short while ago. Anyway, it was during a talk given by Brother Yorgason, as he was telling the story of a 7-year-old Joseph Smith and how he had endured a life-threatening operation on his leg, that I felt a warmth that started in my chest encompassed me from head to foot. I heard a kind of voice—a thought, an echo—an idea distinctly entered my mind that I ought to pay attention. This person, Joseph Smith, was somehow important. I don’t recall receiving any clarification as to why he was important. Just that he was important.
In any case, by the end of that summer, I don’t think that I considered the experience I’d had washing pots and pans or the feelings that overcame me listening to Brother Yorgason were even connected. I’m sure questions were planted in my mind. Topics to ponder. However, honestly, I really enjoyed not being an official member of any Church or religion. I likely would have called myself a Christian, but I would have considered my church the top of a mountain. How often have we heard something like that? Very dramatic. Very scenic and poetic.
If fact, and this is the first time I think it’s occurred to me—Have you ever had that experience when you think back on the events of your life and the reason certain things happened suddenly make sense? I realize now that one of the reasons I think I received so much attention from the members of other Christian denominations was because I told them about both of these experiences. They knew I’d been converted to Christ. And they also listened as I recounted my experience at that Youth Conference in Colorado. That’s why I was invited into prayer circles. That’s why I was given so much anti-Mormon literature. I think some were trying to stack the deck. It wasn’t mean-spirited. Because of their perceptions of faith and the universe, the attention they were giving me was, in reality, an act of kindness. Their hearts were in the right place. They wanted to help me. They wanted to guide me. They wanted to “save” me. It’s also faith-affirming for someone when they convince you, intellectually, spiritually—however—to look at the world the same way they look at the world. But that’s not a very kind way to see it. Their feelings were sincere. They interpreted my experiences in a way that suggested I was being pulled two different directions. That’s not how I perceived it. To me, those were just two interesting things that I’d experienced.
Now keep in mind, there were also many members of Restored Church of Jesus Christ doing their best to influence me. As I recall, the most direct and memorable of these pro-Mormon events occurred during my senior year when I asked my High School civics teacher, Phil Robertson, to tell me more about His Church, the Mormon Church, because at the time that was only name I knew to give it. I can’t even recall how I knew Mr. Robertson was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I probably heard it from one of my member friends. All I knew was that Mr. Robertson was a great civics teacher. As I recalled he was even serving, or had served, as a state representative with the Wyoming State Legislature. So why was this guy a member of this unusual Mormon religion that I’d learned a little about. And a little against. So I asked him.
Now this was during my Senior Year. It was after I’d gained a conviction that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God and after my experience at the Youth Conference in Colorado. He agreed to tell me, but—oddly—it was with some reluctance. He definitely said he did not want to do so on school grounds. I had to come out to his home. Okay. No problem. He had, I think, 35 kids or something. Not that many. But I think it was 9 or 10 or more.
Anyway, Mr. Robertson lived quite some distance on the outskirts of town and I remember driving all the way out to his home and then sitting there in his living room as he brought out a flannel board of the sun, the moon, and stars, a little laminated image with the word paradise and spirit prison—Mr. Roberton taught me, for the very first time, a clear and concise lesson on the Plan of Salvation. And I remember this. He was uncomfortable. Especially at the beginning. I suspect he was concerned whether it was appropriate, as my high school teacher, to be telling me about his religion. Maybe if reported this event to the high school principle, Mr. Robertson could’ve gotten in trouble. I dunno. Fact is, I’d insisted on hearing this lesson. I’d requested it. I thought nothing of any political or public education consequences. But I think Mr. Robertson did. In spite of whatever misgivings I may have sensed, what I remember most is how impressed I was to learn the concept of the pre-existence. I’d never heard this concept before and I liked it. It rang true to me. I was kinda cool. I guess it explained a lot of things in my 17-year-old mind. Still, I had no intention of joining any church. If anything, I’d just incorporate the idea of a pre-existence into my own personal, private, independent religion.
Again, I valued my independence, and I didn’t foresee that that state of mind was ever going to change, even if I was accepted to BYU.
I also vividly remember all the anti-Mormon literature I was given. Most of that stuff just didn’t ring true. And I don’t know why. What’s fascinating about the stuff I heard and read is that it was all the same anti-Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintist concepts and ideas that we still hear today. Some believe the internet to be the all-powerful resource that disseminates information to the world. Absolutely not. At least not in Cody, Wyoming in late-70s/early 80s. It was the same stuff! Joseph Smith was a polygamist who married teenage girls. Multiple accounts of the First Vision. The idea that Joseph taught that there were Quakers living on the moon. Money-digging. Seerstones. Kolob and the Book of Abraham. The Kinderhook plates. It was all there!
Those who think mankind had no idea how to distribute information before the rise of the internet don’t know what they’re talking about. I’d heard it all. And I heard it before I actually read the Book of Mormon. That’s right. I actually read Fawn Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith before I even read the ancient record itself, presumably translated from golden plates.
Did any of this other stuff bother me? Yeah. I suppose. Well, sure—it must have bothered me somewhat because I distinctly remember that whenever I learned something that seemed odd or disconcerting it stayed in my head, and the first chance I got I’d ask people who might know more on the subject to explain it to me. Or defend it. I actually read all the various accounts of the First Vision. They seemed consistent enough to me. I’ve also written down my conversion story and my experience at that Youth Conference in Colorado years and years ago. I’ll bet if you dug up some of those older accounts you’ll find some variations, because varying circumstances seem to call for emphasizing different aspects of an event.
I read this biography of Emma Smith that was all the rage in the early 80s because it supposedly revealed all these secret things about Joseph that the Church didn’t want us to know. Sound familiar? I’m not even gonna look up the name of that book. But this was the mid-80s! So I knew all about the controversies surrounding Joseph Smith and polygamy.
I remember when I first read that tidbit about Joseph Smith teaching that there were Quakers living on the moon in some anti-Mormon tract. This was probably a year or two before I joined. So sure enough, first chance I got, I asked about it. What’s interesting is that it really wasn’t that hard to find people who could give me all the information or insight that I was seeking. Old O. B. Huntington—a figure most members of the Church have never heard of—and his lone second- or third-hand account that didn’t even appear anywhere in print until 1881—of something that he claimed Joseph Smith had mentioned almost 45 years earlier. It was silly. And reading it in context I had the distinct impression, even then, that if such a thing ever was said, somebody was pulling somebody else’s leg, and that person—uh—didn’t quite get the joke. Ever had that happen? Even if there were, like, half a dozen or even two or three other people who confirmed the same teaching from the prophet maybe we could take it more seriously. Fake news existed then just as much as it does today. Does it mess with your head? Sure! Best rule of thumb is that if something doesn’t quite ring true, might be worth digging just a little deeper.
The only new stuff that has come out in my 37 years-experience in the Church is the DNA and the Book of Mormon stuff and maybe the Mark Hoffman stuff—how President Gordon B. Hinkley should have received a revelation that Mark Hoffman was a fraud and stopped him. Even stuff about the Book of Abraham was making the rounds back when I first joined.
Here’s the point. During my first semester at BYU I began the daunting task of reading the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. This was quite an undertaking for a freshmen in college. Of course I’d heard the promise in Moroni 10:3-5. I’ve noticed that today only verses 4-5 are generally emphasized. In the late 70s, early 80s, the admonition definitely included verse 4.
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
It’s a beautiful scripture. So straightforward. And in my view, you definitely gotta emphasize verse 4. Verse 4 outlines important, but perhaps more subtle, qualifications for receiving this revelation.
- Motive: You are seeking wisdom in God.
- Humility: You will remember how merciful the Lord has been to the children of men, from the creation of Adam down until you shall receive these things and ponder them.
Then verse 4 outlines that you must ask God if these things are not true—and that the question is directed at God in the name of Jesus Christ, with a sincere heart, real intent, having faith in Christ, and then the promise: The truth shall be manifested to you. Manifested. It’s a beautiful word.
As I’ve indicated before, beginning many years before I actually put this promise to the test, I’d had that promise repeated and recited to me . . . I’ll bet it was 50 times. That promise was pummeled into my brain—by friends, professors, even strangers. I took it very literally. “Okay, these verses say if I’m sincere and my intent is pure, I’m gonna get a revelation. I’m going to get a manifestation of the Spirit.” My only experience with anything like that was the experience I’d had in Colorado, wherein I felt a burning, almost glowing feeling, and the thought entered my mind to listen. Pay attention. That this name “Joseph Smith” was important.
It was toward the end of my first semester at BYU—sometime in late October, early November, that I finally reached the end. I read Moroni 10:3-5 in context. It was always clear to me that it wasn’t just a matter of kneeling down and asking, “Okay, God, I’m done. Now tell me if it’s true. And be quick about it, because they’re serving dinner right now at the Morris Center.” No, I fully assumed there was more to it than that. At least there was for me. It was a matter of having the right frame of mind. Really wanting to know. And I did. At that time, I don’t think I was particularly concerned if the answer was yay or nay. But I knew my desire to know had to be sincere, relying upon my faith in Christ, which I definitely had. I felt good that I’d gone to the trouble to read the book. I certainly couldn’t quote scripture, and my attention span might’ve strayed—well, had definitely strayed on occasion—Don’t know if those Isaiah verses in 2nd Nephi sank in at all—but at least I’d put in some effort.
Sometime during this learning phase someone also mentioned the idea of “fasting” before or during the time you asked. I wasn’t sure if this was obligatory, but I wanted to have all the pieces in place. I really wanted to be able to tell others, “Hey, I gave it my best shot. I sincerely tried to do this exactly how it’s outlined in these verses. And, uh, nothin’ happened. So I’m sorry, just can’t join your Church.” That was fine with me. Members of Church of Jesus Christ were aggressive little suckers back then. It was right in the midst of President Kimball’s re-engerized program, reasserting President McKay’s axiom of “Every member a missionary.” I needed to be able to say, “It just didn’t happen that way your Book of Mormon said it would.” A negatory answer, or no answer, would have sufficed. It wouldn’t have changed my faith in Christ. And most importantly, I could retain my independence from being locked into any particular organized religion. I can’t overstate how important this was to me. Freedom. Isn’t that the immortal cry from the lungs of Mel Gibson in Braveheart? Freedom!
I started my fast the very hour that I closed the Book of Mormon after reading that last verse. I prayed as long as my little mind would allow before dropping off to sleep, and then woke up the next morning and started right back into it, asking if the Book of Mormon was true. Or not true. I didn’t really know how revelation worked so I figured it could go either way.
At some point I walked all the way from Deseret Towers to BYU’s motion picture studio, which is a pretty hefty walk, reciting to my Heavenly Father all the anti-Mormon stuff, all the pro-Mormon stuff, and everything else that I could think of that might incline my Father in Heaven to give me some kind of answer. The area around BYU’s motion picture studio was very different back then. Lots more acreage and forest. I knelt down in the woods, just like Joseph Smith, and poured out my soul, no doubt wondering if I might receive some kind of equivalent visitation. The setting was perfect. Placid. Secluded. The Provo River was trickling nearby. But nothing happened. No angels. No voice. No sensations. Nothing. Except for my own muttering voice, it was only silence.
So I walked back, went about my day a bit, and then that evening, a couple hours before my so-called 24-hour fast was supposed to end, I knelt down alone in my dorm room on the 6th floor of Q-Hall. I don’t remember how long I was at it. I certainly don’t remember if I mumbled or thought anything that was particularly unique or different than anything else I’d been muttering all day. But all at once, that same feeling—the exact same feeling that overcame me several years earlier in Colorado—returned. That same feeling that comes over me right now as I recount this. It was testified to me that the Book of Mormon was true. That the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true. And that I needed to join it.
Just like that moment at the Youth Conference in Glenwood Springs, that “feeling”, “manifestation”, “association”—whatever you want to call it—that I experienced with the Holy Ghost only lasted about a minute. And when it was gone I remember the emptiness. I remember how much I yearned to feel it again.
After that moment, it didn’t matter anymore what the anti-Mormons had said, it didn’t matter anymore what the pro-Mormons had said. It didn’t matter what anyone who had any opinion on the question might have said. I’d found something that was true. I’d asked, and I’d been answered.
It was always curious to me: Why not receive this confirmation in that grove of trees near BYU’s motion picture studio? That was the typical, cliché setting. Why not there? Why in my rabbit-hutch of a dorm room at Deseret Towers? I don’t know, but it was an interesting lesson in “content” over “location.” Substance over spectacle.
Having been a missionary in one form or another for the last 37-plus years, the most frustrating single issue, or wall, that I’ve come up against in helping bring others to the gospel has been indifference. People who don’t really want to know one way or another. The idea as to whether or not there’s a true church on the earth isn’t really a burning question for them. Haven’t much thought about it. For many, it’s not really something that’s occurred to them that it might be nice to know.
I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around that. The single most fundamental question that ought to be pressing upon the minds of every member of the human race, and it’s never occurred to them to ask? Some have listened to me recount my testimony with the same awe or fascination that one might have while listening to someone talk about an encounter with aliens or bigfoot. What?? To them, it’s all in the same mysterious, paranormal kind of category. This has driven me crazy, but it’s quite often hard convincing someone they really ought to care one way or the other. I think it’s a matter of patience. I sure wasn’t going to take the matter seriously and go seeking any answers until I was downright ready. What’s important for everyone is just to be part of the process. Whatever part the Spirit prompts you to play.
From time to time I’ve also been concerned that after I tell others the details of my own particular conversion story, and the very specific feelings or sensations that I experienced, that a listener will have the same expectations, believe they ought to feel exactly what I felt. On most occasions I have described it as a burning in the bosom, or as a tingling sensation, because that’s the best description I could come up with.
As I’ve often said, I don’t think it’s possible to accurately or universally describe what it’s like to feel the Holy Ghost, what it’s like to experience revelation. It defies words. It defies human language and vocabulary. Deliberately. By its very nature. But I’m a writer. So I try. In vain, I try. And undoubtedly, I tend to over-do it. Over-describe it.
I’m not a general authority, in case that wasn’t obvious. Though I strive with great effort, in this podcast and elsewhere, to get it right, I don’t have to be exactly accurate with every word that I utter. I don’t think general authorities have to be doctrinally perfect with every word they utter either, but I’m probably prone to be more imprecise—that is, less precise and careful—in my wording than they would be.
I just have to be honest. Especially with myself. So I’m not exactly sure what everyone is supposed to experience when they pray to know if the Church of Jesus Christ or the Book of Mormon is true. I just know what I experienced. I know what I felt. I know what I learned. The scriptures offer the best description of the experience with three small words: A “still small voice”. That’s enough. That’ll do.
And by that still, small voice I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s church upon the earth—the only true church with the authority to act in His sacred name, speaking of the Church collectively and not individually, of course, as the Savior tells us in Doctrine and Covenants Section 1 Verse 30.
There’s nothing like silencing the arguments and rhetoric and twisty-ties of anti-Mormons like revelation, sought with sincerity and faith. Oh, and I’ve certainly read and heard all the stuff about wanting to know something so bad that someone might be self-hypnotized, or that it’s indigestion—that one’s as old as Dickens, when Scrooge accused his vision of Marley’s ghost as being a “bit of undigested beef”. Or perhaps it’s being overly hungry. Or whatever other psycho-babble happens to be the latest trend or fad. Nope. I received a still, small voice. I received a testimony.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have all the answers to every intellectual controversy one can present. There’s still questions I have. Things I don’t understand. It just doesn’t matter. That conviction I received on the 6th floor of Q-Hall in Deseret Towers when I was 18 years old, a testimony that’s been reconfirmed now more times than I can possibly count—that’s what matters.
Additionally, it doesn’t mean I can’t “lose” that testimony. “Well, that doesn’t make sense, Chris, how can you forget something like that.” Trust me. Another thing I know is that if I’m not continually repenting and striving and doing the best I can to live the most fundamental, obvious tenets of the Gospel day by day, week by week, I’m quite sure that testimony can be stripped away. I’ve seen it happen to others. And it’s never over arguments about DNA or Quakers on the moon that seems to cause this. It’s bad choices. It’s letting go of the rod. It’s being distracted by the scoffing—the loudest voices in the great and spacious building. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read 1st Nephi, which if you’re not a member of the Church you oughta be doing anyway.
We’re all on a journey here in mortality. The older I get the less judgmental I think I’ve become about all the tangles and turns that someone else is experiencing on their own individual journey. Notice: I think I’ve become. I don’t even like to make definitive or final judgments about my own progress on this journey. After 37 years living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only truly priceless things I can rely on—the only sure defense I have against the slings and arrows of the adversary—continue to be those things that have been revealed to me by the Holy Ghost. Everything else is fascinating and I’m sure will play an integral part in my eternal progression, but it’s secondary. It’s tertiary. And sometimes even further down the line than that.
So that’s the armor of God. If you have doubts, if you read or hear something that bothers you, dig a little deeper. Explore further. Get down on your knees. And throughout make sure you have donned the armor of God in every way that you know, and in every new way in which Heavenly Father might guide you.
Be assured, everything eventually falls into place. Science catches up with religion. The wisdom of men breaks down and withers away. The answers come into full focus, or the questions themselves just start to seem trivial, or at least inconsequential, for the time being. Patience. Continue the journey. Hold to the rod. Exert some faith. Let that faith be tested. Endure the crucible. Endure to the end. And it will be all right.
Thank you for joining me today. Some listeners claim they’ve listened to all 40 episodes on ForeverLDS. That means a lot. It’s an honor to bear testimony, a privilege to have the opportunity to celebrate this gospel in any way that I can.
Take note that with Thanksgiving coming up next week I plan to take three weeks off before contributing another episode. Hey, I’ll have only gotten back from visiting family out-of-state the night before. After that, I’ll hopefully be back on track with an episode every other week.
Stay close to the Lord. If you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as you did yesterday, who moved?
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. This is Chris Heimerdinger. And this is ForeverLDS.