Recently I had dinner with a senior executive in a well-known company in the United States. He holds a PhD, has worked for several name-brand firms, and is a well-read professional. After dinner he asked if he could ask me a personal question. Of course, I was happy to respond. He wondered why, as a reasonably thoughtful person, I could be a committed member of an organized religion, especially the LDS Church, in light of the completely fantastic and irrational premise upon which it was founded.
I judged that he was not prepared, nor was the setting appropriate, for an in-depth sharing of spiritual, testimony-confirming experiences. I did not share with him some of the more personal and sacred elements of my testimony of Mormonism. I did not share with him my own sacred, personal experiences with the Spirit of God. I did not share with him the miracles that I have witnessed and received. I did not share with him the answers to personal prayer which confirmed the truthfulness of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Instead of sharing these aspects of my testimony, I replied to my skeptical but thoughtful friend in the following way, according to the tenets of my own faith. Others likely have similar experiences with their own faith, but I speak of my own, personal experience with religion.
First, I said, Mormons believe that the spiritual side of life is real, as do most other thoughtful people. The fastest growing group in our country, in fact, label themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Consequently, Mormons believe that if people study and investigate, then sincerely pray about the truthfulness of the doctrine being examined, they are entitled to a spiritual witness or a confirming feeling regarding the truthfulness of the information. This spiritual witness regarding the truth of Mormonism, or of any religion, is an important foundation upon which thoughtful people become committed members of their church.
I know, I said, that some people dismiss such experiences as self-delusion, psychological dependence, or incapacity to explain some aspects of human experience. So, I said, let us dismiss this factor as a basis for commitment to Mormonism and rely on something else.
A second foundation for my faith is the Book of Mormon. Admittedly, the fantastic way in which the Book of Mormon is purported to have come about—with translation of golden plates from an ancient language, angelic appearances, seer stones, and so forth—makes its validity suspect. The question is, does any evidence exist that would convince thoughtful people that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be? In the last 30 years or so, a great deal of scholarly research on the Book of Mormon has been produced regarding literary style, author word prints, governmental systems, etymology of proper names, monetary systems, holiday celebrations, weapons and strategies of war, Hebraisms, geographic locations in the Arabian peninsula, and so forth.
These studies, and a large amount of additional empirical evidence, create a case that any reasonable person would have a difficult time ignoring or dismissing. Based merely on the empirical evidence, and even without reading it, reasonable people would have to take the Book of Mormon seriously.
On the other hand, I said to my friend, some people may dismiss academic or empirical evidence as irrelevant or unrelated to a spiritual belief system. The controversy surrounding the Book of Mormon may still get in the way of accepting Mormon doctrine and committing to it as an organized religion. Secular evidence and spiritual beliefs may be dismissed as unrelated.
Therefore, let us consider a third foundation for my commitment to Mormonism. It relates to my own academic discipline regarding management and leadership in organizations. One true principle with which all thoughtful people agree is this statement: When everything is changing, it is impossible to manage or to navigate change. When, for example, a pilot is flying a plane through the air and everything is moving or changing, it is impossible to navigate the plane unless the pilot can find something that does not change—such as the ground or the stars—that is, a fixed, stable point. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides such an unwavering standard for me as I navigate my life.
For example, whereas three quarters of the population in 1995 considered homosexual relations wrong, now less than half do. One quarter of respondents believed that same sex attraction is inherent. Now more than half believe this orientation cannot be changed. A large majority believed that families consisting of a father, mother, and children are the most desirable societal institution, now this opinion is a minority. The societal standard for what is acceptable, valuable, or right is in constant flux.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides a stable, universal standard by which I can navigate in a world of constant change, uncertainty, and flux. Political opinions and popularity need not be the standards by which one’s belief system and values are determined.
It is not a matter of weakness that people are committed to their religion, but it is because they have had personal spiritual experiences, have read broadly and considered scholarly evidence carefully, and have found value in a constant and universal standard to guide their lives. These factors are among the reasons for my own commitment to the LDS Church.
“Well,” he replied, “at least you’ve thought about it.”