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As was mentioned, business is my background. Recently, President Hinckley called me, in addition to other things, to be the chairman of the Church Audit Committee.
He asked, “You’re a CPA, aren’t you?”
And I said, “Well, yeah.”
And he said, “Have you kept up with it?”
And I said, “No.”
And he said, “All right, get caught up. You’re called.”
I left my CPA occupation 35 years ago on purpose, and didn’t think I’d ever need it again after I was called to be a “man of the cloth,” and then this happened. So I may be sitting in some of your classes with you the next little while, because I’ve made a determination, at 67 years of age, to get my CPA certificate current again. And I don’t know if I could ever pass another test again if I had to. But if you see me in your class, that’s why.
How many of you are from West Africa? Where are you from? Ghana, Accra. Aqualba. That means “welcome.” That’s about all I learned, by the way. One of the happiest, hardest, and most fulfilling three years of my life was living in Accra, Ghana. We covered everything from Sierra Leone to the Congo. And it’s the fastest growing area of the Church right now, as far as membership in the Church is concerned.
Well, as students of this College, you’ve got a unique opportunity to accomplish two objectives, which is what I’d like to speak about today. Number one is to prepare yourselves to earn a better living. And number two is to better prepare yourselves for life. It’s the second part that I’m going to address.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we find ourselves a miniscule percentage of the world’s population. The beliefs we hold are being challenged at an accelerated rate. Unless you’ve been living in a cave lately, you’ve noticed some of that increased criticism. “Mormon bashing” has become a popular sport, and has been elevated to a whole new art form. Therefore, I plead with you to increase your knowledge of the Gospel while you’re here, and through that process, deepen your testimony. I’d say to you what Paul said to the Ephesians: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Ephesians 4:14)
Last year in general conference, I spoke of a conversation I had with an impressive 16-year-old young woman. I discovered that she was the only member of the Church in her high school, and I asked her, “What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve got, being the only member?”
She was very thoughtful, and gave a very astute answer. She said, “It is believing something is true when everyone else believes it is false. And believing something is wrong when everyone else believes it is all right.”
The first part of her answer had to do with challenges to her beliefs coming from other members of her school. The second had to do with the lifestyles being promoted by the secular world, and being adopted by her peers, which were contrary to her values. Those were her two most difficult challenges.
I’ll address the first challenge being made by other Christian religions…that is, the challenges being made to our church. They’ve been leveled at us ever since Joseph walked out of the woods, out of the grove, and told his story. Ever since then, we’ve been under this attack.
I think we can relate somewhat to his surprise, and the amazement he had at the reaction of the people. I’m quoting from the Joseph Smith History: “Some few days after I had this vision, I happened to be in company with one of the…preachers, who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement; and, conversing with him on the subject of religion, I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:21)
Continuing the quote: “I soon found…that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.
“It cause me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.” (vv. 22-23)
Does any of that sound familiar today? These reactions have continued to the present day, and recently seem to be at a fever pitch. The majority of the criticism comes from a populace who is uninformed or misinformed about our doctrines and beliefs. I’ve always welcomed questions about the Church, and even healthy debates about the differences in us and other religions. However, my patience runs thin when others, in a mistaken way, say what our doctrine is. In other words, they state our doctrine incorrectly, and then argue against it. That’s going on all over this country right now.
I’d like to tell the people of the world, “If you really want to know what we believe, ask us. We have an army of 50,000 who would be happy to oblige. You can identify them, because they wear those little name tags.”
After Joseph’s early experience with the reaction of those he thought would be thrilled to hear of his experience, he had a visit from the Angel Moroni, who gave him the bad news that it wasn’t going to get any better. “He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations…[and that it would] be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” (v. 33)
We all know how Joseph’s history ends. He sealed his testimony with his blood. Studies of ancient and modern scriptures testify to the fact that we’re in good company with those of other dispensations who had similar revelations. Noah wasn’t the most popular kid on the block. He built an ark. He was popular with animals; he wasn’t too good with people. The House of Israel were hated and despised by most of the world. Our Savior was persecuted, crucified, and the original Twelve were persecuted and eventually killed. In other words, it comes with the territory.
The fact of the matter is that, over centuries of time since the crucifixion of our Lord, many of the plain and precious things have been lost to the world. As Nephi put it, “And after these plain and precious things were taken away it [meaning the Bible] goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles;… and because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble.” (1 Nephi 13:29)
We must keep in mind that if our beliefs were completely consistent with all the other Christian religions, there would have been no need for a Restoration. Too often, I think, that defensively we say, “We have so much in common.” Well, we do. But if we had everything in common, there would have been no need for Joseph Smith. And so there are always going to be very refining differences.
Now, it’s not my objective to give a treatise on the Apostasy and Restoration, but to try to place in perspective the environment in which we are finding ourselves. May I suggest by the way, that we respond to these attacks that are coming from other Christian religions by relaxing, chilling out, taking a deep breath, not getting all defensive, argumentative or huffy, and give respect to their points of view, even though that respect isn’t returned?
I have a great example of someone who not only survived criticism, but made the best of it. It’s an example from Ghana. In 1989 the Ghanaian government froze the activities of the Church. Were any of you members of the Church when this happened? Probably not. This meant, among other things, that all North Americans were sent out, chapels were taken over by the government, and it became against the law to congregate. Some of our local African missionaries from Ghana were thrown into jail. This all came about basically because the Church was growing very rapidly. Local ministers became alarmed, and consequently, anti-Mormon literature was intense, most of it shipped in from preachers in this country.
The freeze lasted for a year and a half, but the members didn’t know how long it was going to last. Six months after the freeze began, I received a letter from a sixteen-year-old boy, a local African boy from Koforidua, who said—you can tell he’s been reading the Book of Mormon—this is the way he starts out: “So it came to pass that I was resting in my father’s car when he called, ‘Michael, have you heard what has happened?’ I said, ‘No.’” This is a direct quote. “He then went on to tell me that the government has frozen the activities of the Church.
“From this, I just got up and said, ‘They’re joking. For no power on this earth can stop this church.’ From that minute onwards, in the newspapers, news bulletins, and even in our town, it was a topic of heated discussion. The Church was made to look very ugly and evil. In my high school”—now picture this, after that description, he goes to school where he may be about the only member. He goes to school—“in my high school, some students came to me and said, ‘Brother Michael’”—this was a Catholic school—“‘are you a Mormon?’”
Think of Peter. “I said yes. They then said, ‘Tell us more about this church, and the Book of Mormon.’ After hearing this, I said to myself, ‘This is the hour.’ So I explained everything to them.”
I was so impressed by this young man. The depth of his testimony was so great, he turned this negative climate into a positive experience.
The majority of those who are launching the attacks against the Church currently are good and decent people. They are just not well informed with the details of our doctrine. They’ve been given false information and half-truths. We need to join with other churches in teaching and defending those values we have in common, because there is a larger and common threat to all religions looming on the horizon. So I have directed myself to other Christian’s criticism; now I’m talking about secularism—that is, those who believe in no God. I speak of the secularism which is running rampant and has infiltrated our culture at every level.
In the words of the 16-year-old young woman I was talking about earlier, when she was asked about the biggest challenge she has, it was, “It is believing something is wrong when everybody else believes it is all right.” It’s astonishing to me how much moral ground this nation has lost in my own lifetime, values commonly practiced by our nation as a whole when I was growing up—and I know that seems like a long time ago to you, but it wasn’t. Not to me, anyway. In my teenage and young adult lives, the values that I espoused, by other churches and everybody else were, in our nation as a whole, commonly accepted. Now those common values are being ridiculed by everybody, in my lifetime, in this country. Organized religion of any type is being attacked. “You don’t need an organized religion.” And churches are diminishing in membership all over this country.
On the other hand, there are many who claim to believe in God, and have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize and separate their beliefs from their actions. The commandments seem to be relegated to an old-fashioned past, no longer relevant in our enlightened world. As a people, we seem to have found it easier to deny the existence of absolute spiritual truth, including commandments. It’s easier to deny there are commandments than it is to repent of breaking them.
Isaiah saw this time very clearly, and warned us, “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” That describes our nation right now, and the secularism that’s creeping in.
Nephi also saw our day. “Oh that cunning plan of the evil one! Oh, the vainness, and the frailties, and foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the council of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28) “For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” (2 Nephi 28:20)
There’s a more subtle threat which may cause more damage than direct confrontation. I call it “The Tolerance Trap.” It was aptly described in just a few words by Alexander Pope: “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen. Yet, seen too often, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” We have a lot of cries in the world that tell us we are intolerant to some of the behavior going on in the world.
I’ll give an example of this evolution from vice being a monster to being embraced. Recently some professors at BYU in Provo did a study on pornography. The study involved six colleges and universities—BYU was not included. It found that pornography is perceived as mainstream and acceptable among college students in the United States. BYU professor Jason Carroll said, “We found that pornography is a common part of college life and young adult life in America. In fact, our data shows that pornography is acceptance and its use is as common on college campuses as drinking.” Pornography is as acceptable as binge drinking. The findings show 67% of college men and 49% of college women believe pornography is acceptable. First we endure, then we embrace.
In my opinion, attacks from the secular world will continue to increase as society drifts from the moorings of revealed truth and commandments. This is partially due to a world rationalizing its own behavior. As a society continues to break eternal laws, it runs the risk of losing the light with which we were all blessed at birth. Paul pointed this out when he said to the Ephesians, “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
“Having [their] understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness in their heart;
“Who being past feeling”—our country is getting past feeling of that which is wrong—who being past feeling “have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)
My conclusion is that we will continue to be bombarded by other churches as well as a secular world who disagrees with our doctrines. Get used to it.
Now, the balance of my message will address the more important question, “What are you going to do about it?” This brings me back to my opening comment that this college provides you with a unique opportunity to prepare yourself for life through your Institute and your study of religion. The first thing we need to do is increase the breadth of our knowledge of the Gospel, and the depth of our convictions about it. If we do this, we can stand firm when the tornados of criticism sweep through our lives.
My assumption in preparing this talk is that there may be some of you who are troubled by the questions being asked and the criticisms being leveled by other religions and the secular world. Some of you may have your testimonies being challenged. Some of you may not be troubled now, but may be in the future. The good news is the Lord has provided a way for you to stand anchored. You’ve been given the power to become self-assured spiritually, no matter what anybody else says. You can put every principle and doctrine of the Church to the test. Your convictions can stand up to any challenge which the world can throw at you. You’ve received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This is referred to in Moroni’s oft-quoted promise: “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.” (Moroni 10:4)
Too often, I think we separate this promise, or we equate this promise solely to gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon. In my opinion, we should never quote the fourth verse without quoting the fifth: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” As I just mentioned, we ordinarily use this scripture to encourage non-members and members alike to obtain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. The fifth verse makes it much broader than that. Every principle and doctrine of the kingdom carries with it the promise of our being able to determine for ourselves the truthfulness of that principle or that doctrine, including current statements of our prophets, seers and revelators.
Some members accept the Book of Mormon but are a little more reticent when it comes to following our current prophets. This is especially true as it relates to current cultural trends which have been addressed by our prophet. Some Latter-day Saints practice selective obedience. A prophet is not one who displays a smorgasbord of truths from which we’re free to pick and choose. However, some persons become critical and suggest that the prophet should change the menu. The prophet doesn’t take a poll to see which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. He reveals the will of the Lord to us.
The world is full of deteriorating churches whose leaders have succumbed to public opinion and have become more dedicated to tickling the ears of their members than obeying the laws of God. In the early days of the Restoration, some converts wanted to bring a few of their previous beliefs into the Church. Our problem today is with members who seem vulnerable to the trends in society (and the pointing fingers that come with them) and want the Church to change its positions to accommodate them. The Lord’s counsel in 1831 is relevant today: “Behold, I say unto you, that they desire to know the truth in part, but not all, for they are not right before me and must needs repent.” (D&C 49:2)
We need to accept the full truth and put on the whole armor of God. We have some members who are a little bit critical. Member critics testify they know the gospel is true, but they believe the Brethren are just a little out of touch. Out of touch with what? Don’t confuse a decision to abstain from participating in a trend in society with a lack of awareness about its existence. These Brethren prove all things, and hold fast to that which is true. To accomplish that, they’re in constant touch with Him who created the earth and knows the world from beginning to end. They’re in touch with the right spirit.
If you ever find yourself questioning the Church’s doctrine relative to that being espoused by the secular world and embraced by some other churches, put it to the test. Remember, by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things. Each doctrine—every single doctrine—and principle, carries with it a confirmation of the Spirit as to its’ truthfulness. Every single one. Put it to the test, by studying it, pondering it, praying about it.
As a summary and conclusion, I’d like to suggest a simple 15-page study plan. I hesitate to call it an assignment. I don’t think I have the authority to give you an assignment. This is a 15-page study plan which can form a base of protection from the bombardment of negative comments some individuals are spewing out over the media. I think you’ll find this suggestion very compatible with your study of the Book of Mormon in Sunday School and the Teachings of Joseph Smith in priesthood and Relief Society this year. Please read them—that is, these 15 pages—read it with what I’ve been talking about in mind, that is, the onslaught of criticism we are getting from the world.
Start first with the basic history of the Church contained in the Pearl of Great Price called the Joseph Smith History. It’s thirteen pages, right out of the Pearl of Great Price. I quoted a little bit from it earlier. Read it in the context of what we’re being challenged. Ponder it. Pray about it. It carries with it the promise, “By the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” After all the debate, the events described within these 13 pages are either true or false. There’s no in between. It isn’t maybe. It either did or it didn’t happen, and I testify it did.
The fourteenth page of my recommended study addresses the claim from other Christian religions that Mormons are not Christian. This document, released on January 1, 2000, capsulizes our beliefs in the Savior. It’s called The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of your homes have this hanging on the wall. Have you ever read it? Read it. Ponder it. Pray about it. Are we Christian? By the power of the Holy Ghost, you may know the truth of all things. Ultimately, in my mind, with all the voices in the world, the only opinion that matters to me about whether I’m a Christian or not is Jesus the Christ’s opinion. As long as He knows I’m a Christian, I don’t care what anybody else thinks.
Bickering among religions claiming to be Christian must be heartbreaking to Him. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking some of this is. We have nothing to gain from becoming defensive and responding in an unChristian-like manner. We have everything to gain from explaining our position to those who will listen and put our doctrines to the test. As President Hinckley has said, and I can hear him saying this, “I can’t understand why the Christian world does not accept the Book of Mormon. I would think they would be looking for anything and everything that would establish without question the reality and the divinity of the Savior of the world.” Just can’t understand it.
In response to the people in the secular world who criticize the Church relative to our stance on many of the current social issues, I recommend another one-page document. This rounds out my 15-page assignment: The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It was introduced in the general Relief Society meeting September 23, 1995. A lot of you have this hanging on your wall. I want to give you a little perspective into this, or something to think about. If you understand the principles and the doctrine taught in this document, every question raised about the Church’s position on the hotly debated moral issues of the time will be answered. I don’t care what issue you’re speaking of, if you will take it and read this, in my opinion, this proclamation is not only spiritually instructive and edifying, but it is also a literary masterpiece.
As you read it, think about this: Every moral issue being intensely debated right now is covered in the Proclamation, and yet not one of them is mentioned by name. That’s what I mean by literary masterpiece. This is done by teaching principles which can be applied on each of these subjects. Read it. Ponder it. Pray about it. By the power of the Holy Ghost, you may know the truth of all things.
It would be my guess that, if it wasn’t for the expense we’d all go through, this would become the 139th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. But if that doesn’t ever happen, whenever anything starts out with “We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles…solemnly proclaim,” take it to the bank. It is a testimony to me that these two documents address the volumes and volumes of anti-Mormon literature trying to tear down our beliefs. It’s a testimony to me that these documents were released well ahead of the storm we find ourselves in today. Once we understand the doctrine and principles, we are entitled to a confirmation of the Spirit as to whether they are true or not.
Being supposedly trained in logic—that is, accounting, debits and credits, they all have to balance—one of the things I love about this Church is that it is not only spiritually true, it is completely logical and intellectually sound. When you know all the doctrine, it makes all the intellectual sense in the world. I have no doubt that the Church as a whole will turn our current challenges into tremendous opportunities.
You can enhance your usefulness in the kingdom by increasing your knowledge of the Gospel and deepening your testimony. I return to where I started by pleading with you to make this a part of your preparation for life while attending this College, and you’ll be able to stand in any of the storms that come along.
I testify to you of the truthfulness of these fifteen pages, and I bless you as you begin your own study and prayer about them, that you will have come into the depths of your soul, where nothing else can touch it, a confirmation of the reality, the truthfulness, of the Gospel contained in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Introduction: President Woodhouse
What a great pleasure it is to have Elder Pace with us today. He’s a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy; he was first called as a general authority in 1985, to serve as 2nd counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. He has served as president of the North America Northwest Area, and president of the Africa West Area, and as president of the North America Northeast Area. Would those students from Africa please stand? We have a number out there. Just great to have you with us today. I understand Africa is a long ways away.
Elder Pace worked for nine years in the Welfare Services Department, and was the managing director of that department as well. He graduated from Brigham Young University and worked for an international accounting firm. Elder Pace is a native of Provo, Utah, and served the Church as a full-time missionary in the New England States, and as mission president in the Australia Sydney North Mission. He’s married to Jolene Clayson of Provo. They have six children and, as of this writing, 27 grandchildren. What a great pleasure it is to introduce Elder Glenn L. Pace.