I often write critically here. I strive to do so in the spirit of community, as one who only wishes us to be our best.
Today, I want to write something different. I want to share what the Book of Mormon means to me. Because – in my own way that may not be so different from yours – I believe this book is true.
When I say the Book of Mormon is true, that is first a historical statement. I believe it is a real account, written by men named Nephi and Mormon and Moroni (and others). I believe they really lived and wrote. In the next life, I hope to meet some of them. In particular, I would like to talk with Zeniff and King Benjamin and Alma the Younger and Helaman the Elder. These men (and, unfortunately, the authors were all men) put together a book that testifies of Christ, the center of their worship and mine. As such, it has been invaluable to me.
I recognize that declaring the historical truth of the Book of Mormon is a bold claim. It is nothing that I can prove. But it is nothing that I have seen sufficient evidence to disprove either. It is, for me, a matter of faith that accords with my historical training. That historical training is substantial, including a doctorate in U.S. history. Though not an expert in ancient history, I understand historical argumentation and have not encountered persuasive evidence in either direction on the historical question. I expect that will always be the case.
My faith in the Book of Mormon comes as a matter of personal testimony. It is a testimony I began to develop as a child. My family was devoted but not devout. We attended our meetings, filled our callings, and believed. But we weren’t very good at those Mormon patterns of Family Home Evening or family scripture study. So I first encountered the Book of Mormon in depth in seminary. I was a studious student, so I embraced religious study like I did my other subjects. My early love for the book led me to pass out copies to many friends as an awkward Christmas present when I was a sophomore in high school.
It really wasn’t until college, my mission, and beyond that I developed a deeper appreciation for the book. I began to turn to it when I needed solace or direction. I used it to help others tackle their own challenges. I felt and saw the power that a testimony of the book could have in the lives of others.
I have read the Book of Mormon enough that I had to search beyond the simple stories we tell about it for the complexity within its pages. I learned to approach Nephi and the other writers not as simple ventriloquy puppets for God, but as living people who were doing their best to make sense of the world and to teach others (especially their own family) of the solace to be found in Christ. They aren’t perfect but then one perfect example (Christ) is enough. I need imperfect models to help guide me in my own imperfection.
Often, I find this testimony frustrating as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It seems to me sometimes as though we’re afraid of the complexity within the Book of Mormon. In our Gospel Doctrine class (designed for adult, mature members) our curriculum is still full of some of those simple, incomplete stories we might tell our children. Our sacrament meeting talks are often delivered as though to the least common denominator, peddling self-affirming aphorisms instead of the challenges given by Christ. We focus on the heroic Nephi and the courageous Captain Moroni, forgetting the sorrowful, sinful Nephi and the angry, self-centered Captain Moroni. In serving up such caricatures, week after week and decade after decade, I fear we’re stifling ourselves and perhaps inviting dangers of which the Lord warned.
In particular, right now my heart is filled with sorrow not only for refugees around the world seeking to enter the safety of my nation, but how little we are doing as a Church to stand against those who would sow fear instead of love for those in need.
The Book of Mormon is the tale of refugees. The Jaredites, Lehi’s family, and Zarahemla’s people were all refugees from the Holy Land. Nephi’s family, Mosiah’s people, Limhi’s people, and Alma’s people are all refugees from the Land of Nephi. Lamoni’s people flee their brother Lamanites and receive sanctuary from the Nephites, notwithstanding the danger that trails them. The Book of Mormon speaks invitingly of those who will flee to the promised land in the last days and Moroni and Jacob both speak movingly of the plight of the wanderer.
Given all this, how can the Church not take a firm moral stand against all those who would seal borders against the oppressed? How can the institutional guardian of the Book of Mormon fail to see this as a moral issue that transcends party politics? How can the restored Church of Christ not stand up for those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned (often all at once) and say “We will stand with these. For that is where Christ would stand, whether they worship him or not!”?
I believe this book is true. I hope my life will reflect that conviction.