The Shanghai International District Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held March 17 and 18, 2018, in Shanghai. The highlight by far was the musical number in the general session Sunday morning performed by a combined children’s choir from all the branches of the District. That well prepared musical number came thanks to a proactive and visionary woman, Amy Carlson, who long ago came to the District with a proposal for a combined Primary choir and then visited each branch to train the kids and make the music work so well to inspire and amaze us. They sang “I Will Be What I Believe,” a collection by Blake Gillette. Dramatic and so fun. Thank you, Sister Carlson!
The children’s choir was so inspiring that it would have been great to just end the meeting there. Sadly, I had the misfortune of being the first speaker after them. Here is the talk that I gave.
“Here, Take My Camera”: Responding to the Miraculous Message
and Convincing Power of the Book of Mormon
Shanghai International District Conference, March 18, 2018
Faith is essential for us to grow in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With faith comes great blessings, sometimes miracles, and increasing evidences that can turn embryonic faith into something more mature. When faith matures, it can become a firmly established hope or even true knowledge. Jacob in Jacob 4:6 in the Book of Mormon speaks of this process when he says “we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken.” Unshaken faith, genuine hope, and ultimately knowledge – we need to pursue these things. How can we make our faith unshaken, or less shakeable?
Unfortunately, since there is opposition in all things in this mortal journey, our faith can be shaken, damaged, and killed. This can happen to adults who have served in high levels in the Church. It can happen to our young people when, for example, they go to college and listen to the rantings of impressive but ignorant professors who mock belief in God or especially the Latter-day Saint faith. Sadly, the hostile agenda of the world can make it easy to be shaken. Few families have been spared from that sorrow.
I myself have been shaken a time or two. It occurred once when I was serving as a bishop and was even working hard on the side in bits of spare time to defend the Church from common anti-Mormon attacks. I encountered an argument that had turned away a man previously in the bishopric in our ward. It led to him founding a popular anti-Mormon website. The argument involved the Book of Abraham, and at the time, it was a convincing argument. The argument was that the original Egyptian scrolls used by Joseph Smith in his so-called translation had been discovered and now experts could read them and – surprise – they had nothing to do with Abraham. It was just the pagan Book of the Dead. Things like Facsimile 1 were ordinary Egyptian scenes. Facsimile 1 was an embalming scene, an ordinary funerary document. Joseph’s translation was hopelessly wrong, wrong, wrong. All fake. Ouch. I was shaken.
In facing that shaking, I was aided by my already strong testimony of the Book of Mormon that helped me understand that I should not be hasty in jumping to negative conclusions. My faith was shaken a little, but I was able to exercise more faith and be patient while looking for answers.
I soon found that there were answers to the attack that had been made. I found that critics I had read had somehow left out vital information that significantly changed the argument. They didn’t disclose that the documents that were discovered in 1967 were remnants, a tiny part of a much larger collection that included other longer scrolls. What was found does not match eyewitness accounts of the documents Joseph was translating. And they also failed to mention, of course, that there are significant cool things about the Book of Abraham that support its ancient origins. I’ll mention just one.
Facsimile 1, the drawing at the beginning of the Book of Abraham, which may have been added by Joseph from the collection or may have been intended to relate to the story by its Egyptian redactors, shows a man on a table with a man standing over him, knife in hand. The critics say this is an ordinary embalming scene of dead person. But look at that dead person. He has a leg sticking up. He’s wearing shoes. His arms are raised. Other funeral scenes in Egyptian lore don’t show dead people that way. But this posture is typical in Egyptian literature and is actually very much like an Egyptian hieroglyphic. It means to praise or supplicate, as in prayer. It’s consistent what the Book of Abraham explains: Abraham was on an altar, about to be sacrificed for his opposition to idol worship, and he prays to the Lord for deliverance. Bingo. So interesting. But the critics leave such things out and report the fake news that the Book of Abraham has been completely destroyed by the evidence. They had temporarily fooled me and many other people.
There are still some big questions marks in some areas of the Book of Abraham debate and for many other areas of the Gospel where I don’t yet have easy answers, but I do know of a fascinating track record to keep in mind. The track record is that many things that seemed like weaknesses or blunders in the LDS scriptures 50 years ago or 150 years ago have turned into strengths over time.
Sadly, many of those who abandon their shaken faith because of some specific objection or problem do so without doing their homework. Some who have left write eloquent letters or web pages citing a host of anti-Mormon books or articles as if they are factual, and typically show little awareness of the excellent scholarship that has responded in detail and often refuted the attacks. They may leave without even being aware of the detailed resources that are listed on LDS.org (Google “Gospel Study Resources” at LDS.org) to help members learn more about some of the issues involving our faith and our scriptures. Those resources listed there include websites such as FAIR, Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, etc. The many evidences and answers and analyses provided there are not meant to create faith or replace testimony, but to help us better understand and appreciate the Gospel and to give hope to move forward in faith when facing a stumbling block. Shaken faith often needs first aid. Growing faith often needs intellectual nutrition and even inoculation to cope with future pestilence.
After my shaken faith regarding the Book of Abraham became a source of strength, I contacted the man I knew from my ward who was now running an anti-Mormon website. I told him I had gone through a similar challenge involving the Book of Abraham, but had found some fascinating new information that he apparently had missed which really changed things. Would he be willing to talk about this? He said no, whether he was right or wrong about the Book of Abraham, he had found many other things that he felt were wrong about the Church and he was sure he was right overall and was not willing to reconsider anything. That’s normal. We need to understand that when our loved ones have left, great patience may be needed, perhaps a lifetime of patience, though some will return soon. But the best time to deal with the arguments and issues is before faith has been completely abandoned. The time for us to reinforce our own faith and knowledge is now, while it’s alive.
And one of the best ways to strengthen and deepen faith, to build reservoirs of faith, is through experiencing the power and evidence provided by the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion, with Christ as the cornerstone and foundation. It is a book that we need to take more seriously, to study more deeply, and to do our homework now to deepen our faith in Christ and in the truth of the Restoration, for that can give us roots to cope in faith and patience with many other challenges that might come our way.
The Book of Mormon is a convincer. It’s purpose as stated by Mormon on the title page includes “convincing” Jews and Gentiles, all of us, basically, that Jesus is the Christ. This convincing power of the Book of Mormon has been essential for my own testimony and growth in the Church. It has been the key to bringing many people into the Church, including some very intelligent people. It is a book that begs for scrutiny, for research, for tough questions and analysis, and for thoughtful, prayerful contemplation. As one example of its convincing power, I’d like to share with you a story told by Reg Wilkins about his brother Victor Wilkins. Both men were prominent and highly acclaimed photographers in England who did photography for famous publications like Vogue magazine and many others. The story was written by Anne Bradshaw and published in Meridian Magazine at LDSMag.com in 2002. The title is “Award Winning British LDS Photographer, Reg Wilkins: His Conversion Story,” but it’s mostly about the conversion of his brother, Victor, who then brought Reg and over 100 other people into the Church. The title that I prefer, and the title of my talk today, is “Here, Take My Camera.”
On a warm June day in 1967, Reg’s younger brother, twenty-two year old Victor Wilkins, knowing nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was taking photographs as he walked through London’s famous Hyde Park.
Reg tells the story. “As Victor gazed at the many great men of history carved in stone on the Park’s magnificent Albert Memorial, people like Beethoven, Bach and so on, my brother describes how the internal spiritual awakenings which had been building in his life for a while, caused him for the first time, to offer a deeply sincere prayer, and he asked: ‘Where does the great creative power such as these men had come from?’
“At that moment, to his surprise, words came to him that were completely unfamiliar – words from a book that he had never read nor had any knowledge of – but later discovered were from the Book of Mormon: ‘…..all things which are good cometh of God.’ (Moroni 7:12).
“Moved by the experience, Victor felt impelled to ask the source of the answer: ‘Well, as it was God, where is this God to be found?’
“‘Look for me now and you will find me’, came the reply.
“At this point, Victor thought this might be the beginning of some global quest, and that he might have to search the world over, possibly ending up in the Himalayas or somewhere similar. But he was so sure of the spiritual direction he was receiving, that he would have been more than prepared to do whatever was required.
“Victor sat down on the memorial steps pondering his spiritual experience, and became conscious that he was now looking at the statue of Prince Albert, sitting regally on a throne (to his mind, like God), with angels above spiraling upwards to a cross at the top of the memorial. Everything seemed to be converging to symbolize what the Spirit was now in the process of revealing to him. The experiences left him feeling tired and he felt that he should cross the street and sit in the quiet of the Royal Albert Hall.
“Once inside and seated, Victor put his head back to rest and as he looked upward, he was impressed by the massive, domed ceiling that resembled the universe and he began thinking about all the great activities that had happened in the Albert Hall over time.
“By now, the feeling that something hugely important was about to enter his life had saturated his heart and mind, and he wondered whether he ought to be trying to search the Albert Hall basements for some book or other for the truth as to where God was. After contemplation, he felt that he should leave the building and continue to follow the spiritually-directed inclinations he was receiving.
“The idea came to him that perhaps ‘the book’ might be found in one of the well-known museums due south of him, at the bottom of Exhibition Road. He set off in that direction-having no idea that this is where one of our chapels is located.
“As Victor walked, and wondered, he had a mixed sense of excitement and reverence for his unknown guiding force since his original question was such an important one. In his determination to get to the museums, he once more failed to notice a building that he had passed many times – the Hyde Park Chapel.
“However, in my brother’s words: ‘As I was looking ahead toward the museum, it was as if heavenly hands gently turned my head to the left so that I was now looking at a burst of light coming from a notice board poster. At the same time, an internal voice was telling me: ‘Concentrate on this as if your life depended on it, for it does’.’
“My brother said: ‘I felt transfixed, as if laser beams connected my eyes to the picture, which, as I drew closer, revealed the figure of the Saviour with his arms outstretched toward me and the people of ancient America who were also shown in the poster. At that wonderful moment, I felt as if a volcano of light was surging up inside me. I had the overwhelming sensation that this message was crucial.’
Reg continues. “At this point, a young sister missionary emerged from the chapel and asked Victor if he would like to know the history of the scene depicted in the poster. She explained that he could read about it in a special book of scripture called the Book of Mormon. Of course, my brother could hardly believe his ears.
“He recalls that the minute the book was placed in his hands and he flipped through its pages, he knew this was it, the book by which he could find God. He was also presented with a second hardbound book called Meet the Mormons. This was a fairly comprehensive, illustrated book outlining what Latter-day Saints believe. As well as fundamental beliefs, the second book gave an overview of church history, where the Book of Mormon came from, details about priesthood, the restoration, revelation, church government and more. When my brother returned home, three miles away, it was around 5:00pm.
“He commenced reading and didn’t stop until the following morning at 5:00am, having read Meet the Mormons in its entirety, and various parts of the Book of Mormon. “In Victor’s words: ‘I simply could not put the book down. I didn’t want to eat, or drink. As I became sleepy, I prayed for strength for further concentration and enlightenment. I read, I pondered, I prayed, I was taught by the Spirit, I read some more – and repeated that cycle through the entire night. By five a.m., I felt as though I could sleep for a thousand years and nodded off. Yet despite that, by eight a.m., I awoke feeling fully refreshed and with a burning desire to be baptized.’
“Victor immediately dressed and went to the Hyde Park chapel but, in his enthusiasm, failed to realize that no one would normally be there at that time in the morning. However, the Lord, knowing my brother’s faith and sincerity, provided missionary sisters who just ‘happened’ to go to the chapel at that unusual hour.
“As Victor related his experiences to the somewhat astounded missionaries – especially when he asked for immediate baptism – their response was understandably: ‘But you can’t be baptized yet, you don’t know enough. There are a series of discussions that we need to share with you first.’
“To this, my brother’s response was, ‘Fine, but its not necessary, because I know the Church is true. I’m ready to be baptized.’ One of the missionaries interjected, ‘But we need to teach you about things like tithing. Do you realize that members give ten percent of their income to the Church?’
“The missionaries were staggered when my brother replied, ‘Ten percent! Is that all? I would gladly give all that I have to know God, here, take my camera!’ He knew from their meeting the previous day that one of the missionaries admired his professional camera.
“The three, together with the mission president, later agreed that it would be wise to complete all the discussions, and soon after, Victor was baptized.
Victor did not join just because he had a warm feeling, an emotional response, with no need for thinking, learning and studying. His conversion began with deep pondering and intellectual activity. The Spirit led him not just to a fuzzy feeling, and not just to the Church, but to specific books, especially the Book of Mormon, that he studied with passion. Though brief, his study was intense and helped his prepared mind find the initial answers that he needed. He had learned that by seeking truth, by listening to and acting on the promptings of the Spirit, and then diving into what the Lord gave, that he was able to discover truth.
The image that the Lord told him to study as if his life depended on it was the painting of Christ ministering to the Nephites and Lamanites in the New World, a key Book of Mormon scene. And the promptings of the spirit led him to seek God not by wishing to find a church, but by wishing to find a book that might teach him, that might help reveal God to him. It was this book that the sister missionary at Hyde Park chapel offered him. It was the treasure of knowledge he was seeking.
Many of you are fortunate to have had the Book of Mormon in your life for years. But are you feasting on it? Do you treasure it? Have you experienced its convincing power to bring us to Christ and to help us overcome the clever arguments of the adversary and his eloquent and overpaid professors, the kind of people Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 6:20 when he tells us to “avoid profane and vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called”? There is a lot of fake news or distorted news and fake wisdom from our opponents, for which there often are solid responses and wise answers that can help us protect our faith and strengthen the faith of others. But our success will depend upon the depth of our roots and our experience with sacred scripture, especially the Book of Mormon, a book that is truer than ever, a book that we should study and learn about as if our lives depended on it. It is a precious book.
Victor Wilkins was ready to give up his camera and his career for the truth such a book could give him. Are we ready to give up the time and energy required to unearth the treasures that the Book of Mormon offers? I pray that we will take this more seriously.