Category Archives: LDS History

Mormon Fair-Cast 185: Race and the Priesthood

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RussellStevensonIn this episode of the Mormon History Guy podcast, Kate Kelly Harline interviews Russell Stevenson (author of Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables and author of the forthcoming, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Documentary History of Blacks and Mormonism,  1830-2013). They discuss the meaning and ramifications of the LDS Church’s new statement on “Race and the Priesthood.”  Russell traces the origins, course, and trajectory of the Saints’ relationship with the black community and racial exclusion.

This podcast is posted here by permission of Russell Stevenson. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of FairMormon or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

FairMormon Frameworks 11: Brant Gardner Gift and Power

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brant-gardnerWe sit down with LDS author Brant Gardner to discuss his book  “The Gift and Power – Translating the Book of Mormon,” and ask him tough questions about the translation process. We delve beyond the surface to try to understand the context of Joseph translating using the “Urim and Thummim.” We touch on topics like Joseph’s Scrying or mystical use of the seer stone and skins of blackness in the Book of Mormon.  We also touch on the Meso-American Setting model for the Book of Mormon.

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

Grant’s Book is available here: The Gift and Power : Translation of the Book of Mormon

Mormon Fair-Cast 179: FairMormon Support Board

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computerman

FAIRMORMONSUPPORT.ORG

Welcome to our community! This is not just our community, but it is yours as well. It is a safe place for you to explore with others the questions and challenges that confront you as you live a life of faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are here to help you and to support you as you seek continued participation in the Church despite questions or doubts you experience.

No question or concern is off limits. We do ask however, that you approach every issue you face with an eye towards reconciling your questions with the faith you have felt in the past. Our goal is to help you regain, maintain, or increase your faith in the restored gospel. If this is your desire, this is place where you will find help in your journey.  Check it out now at  FairMormonSupport

Welcome Page

Faith Crisis 101

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

Egyptology and the Book of Abraham: An Interview with Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein

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Kerry Muhlestein, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Mormon fascination with the ancient world stems largely from an exotic corpus of writings found in the canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One book in the Church’s canon, the Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith claimed to be an inspired translation of some ancient Egyptian papyri, has captured Mormon imagination with a vibrant narrative involving the eponymous biblical patriarch, human sacrifice, far-off lands, divine encounters and a grand cosmology.

One BYU professor, Kerry Muhlestein, has devoted a good portion of his academic career (over a decade) investigating the saga of the Book of Abraham. Muhlestein, who holds a PhD in Egyptology from UCLA, is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. According to his faculty bio on the BYU Religious Education website, Muhlestein “is the director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project,” which has led successful archaeological digs in Egypt, and has academic expertise in fields including “Ancient Egypt, Hebrew Bible, [and the] Pearl of Great Price.” Continue reading

FairMormon Frameworks 10: Terryl Givens Crucible of Doubt

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Givens-TerrylTerryl Givens, is professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond, where he holds the James A. Bostwick Chair in English.  He is the author of several books including “By The Hand of Mormon” and has a book approaching publishing called “The Crucible of Doubt”.  Terryl has been part of a series of firesides given to helps doubters address their framework and talks to us today about Faith and Doubt and how we might better navigate these issues.

Terryl’s books can be purchased here

By the Hand of Mormon

People of Paradox

The God Who Weeps

Biography of Parley Pratt

and his talks

Letter to a Doubter

When Souls Had Wings

Lightning Out of Heaven

 

 

FairMormon Frameworks 9: Richard Bushman – Helping Those in Doubt

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RoughStoneRollingRichard Bushman, one of the foremost scholars on Joseph Smith and author of “Rough Stone Rolling,” sits down with me to discuss the experience of a faith crisis and how to support those who are in doubt.  He shares his ideas on what helps and what doesn’t and how we need to deal with the historical issues head on!

Read the 2008 article referenced in the Episode here – 2008 Joseph Smith and His Critics

Purchase his Book “Rough Stone Rolling” – Click Here

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

FairMormon Frameworks 8: Seer Stones and Treasure Digging

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TranslationCritics cite the Church as intentionally creating a simple sanitized view of the translation of the Book of Mormon.  But what really happened?  Here is one believer’s personal take on the translation process when all of the historical record is taken into account.  Did the Church intentionally hide information?  What are we to make of Joseph’s “Treasure Digging”?  What did the witnesses say? We discuss this and much much more.

Resources
http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=7&num=1&id=167

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=13

http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/the-spectacles-the-stone-the-hat-and-the-book-a-twenty-first-century-believers-view-of-the-book-of-mormon-translation/

http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Translation/Method  < —— witness accounts

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

Betrayal and Our Relationship with Church History

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Ash (newer) Picture(This is the second half of an article based on a 2013 FairMormon Conference presentation)    

In any relationship, one of the things that seems to cause the most pain and anger is the feeling of betrayal. This same problem can surface in our relationship with the Church. For example, if a member finds information that conflicts with his or her assumptions about Church history, they may feel that the Church has lied. The pain and anger of feeling betrayed may take the leading role in the desire to leave the faith while the original troubling issue or issues may become secondary. A testimony lost at this stage can be hard to restore. What might have been sufficient answers earlier become insufficient once resentment—as a result of presumably being deceived—replaces faith. At this point logic and rationale take a back seat to emotion and answers to the original challenging issues are often met by a litany of other issues.

When potentially troubling information is presented in faith-promoting ways, the information—accompanied by the weight of a faithful context—often helps members understand difficult issues within a framework of their beliefs. When hostile sources present the same information, they frequently claim or imply that the Church hides this information from members. The critics supposedly are merely exposing a “cover-up.” This may add weight to the contra-LDS source and give the impression that they (the critics) are really the objective truth-seekers who are merely uncovering the facts. It’s often not the information that makes people leave, but the perception that the information was “hidden.” The feelings of deception and betrayal ultimately drive many people out more frequently than the discovery itself.

Is there any truth to the charge that the Church has withheld challenging details of the past? The answer is both yes and no.

Information can be withheld intentionally or unintentionally. First we will discuss the intentional reasons. In the context of early creations of LDS history, we find a tradition among most nineteenth-century biographies (the primary form of historical creations) that emphasized the positive aspects of heroic figures in the hopes of inspiring readers while often exaggerating or even fabricating anecdotes—such as George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree. Frequently, in cases of early American biographies involving religious or philosophical movements, the movement took center stage and the “history” was a tool for evangelizing the movement. Any information that might harm the movement was withheld from the biography/history.

Early Mormon historians, like many historians of their era, were not trained in history but were instead influenced by the English Puritans whose histories were written as faithful explanations of their events. These Puritans (as well as early LDS historians) believed that, like the Hebrews before them, they were God’s chosen people whose coming to America was part of God’s unfolding plan. “Their history and biography,” note three prominent historians, “told the saga of God’s dealings as seen in their personal lives. In short, Puritan biography and autobiography were simultaneously scripture as well as history.” “Accuracy and realism were …largely things of the future.”[i]

Apostle George Q. Cannon, whose faith-promoting stories were intended for the youth of the Church, wrote some of the more popular historical accounts of early Mormonism. Such works, like many other non-LDS works of the nineteenth century, were defensive in tone, biased, one-dimensional, and devoted to evangelizing a particular perspective. Today such writings are often referred to as hagiographies. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century that the modern biography—critical, multi-dimensional, and objective (at least in principle)—“began to take its present form.”[ii] The early faith-promoting histories, however, became the source of historical knowledge for many Church members, launched similar popular works for decades to come, and influenced the versions of history that were taught in Church and official Church publications. While it can be said that early LDS histories intentionally withheld challenging and non-flattering information, in the context of the times this was not unique to Mormonism and is to be expected.

As for the unintentional censoring of information, we turn to the Church curriculum. Some ex-members complain that they never heard certain aspects of Church history from the Sunday School classes they attended. The purpose of Church curriculum, however, including Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society, is to support the mission of the Church: to bring people to Christ. Very little actual history is discussed in Church classes. Even every fourth year when the Doctrine and Covenants is taught (which includes some Church history) the primary goal of the class is to help members draw closer to God, seek the Spirit, and understand gospel principles.

As an international Church, the correlation of materials and teachings is aimed at harmonizing lessons and instruction, and in accommodating the tender new member with basic Gospel principals—those teachings which affect our relationships with God and our fellow brothers and sisters.

Thousands of virtually untrained volunteers, with varying degrees of gospel and historical knowledge and education (or lack thereof) endeavor to bring the Spirit into the classroom so that class members can be spiritually edified. While some Gospel Doctrine teachers may be knowledgeable enough to share detailed historical information, the manuals generally give basic historical outlines that specifically relate to lessons focusing on one or more gospel principles and how to apply those principals in the lives of members. In short, Church is a place for worship, spiritual edification, and enlightenment, not for in-depth historical discussion.

Despite the primary foci of Church curriculum and official Church publications, the vast majority of challenging issues have seen brief discussions or notes in a variety of LDS-targeted publications, conferences, and programs.

If these topics have been mentioned, why are some members shocked when they first encounter them in LDS-critical publications? Americans, unfortunately, are by and large, literate but uniformed. We tend to spend less time reading than watching TV or surfing the Internet. Several studies show that fewer Americans read books, and many are severely uninformed in regards to significant historical issues, current events, or scientific facts. According to Carl Sagan, 63% of Americans are unaware that the last dinosaur died before the first humans lived, and nearly half of American adults do not know that the Earth goes around the sun and that it takes a year to do so.[iii]

According to one author who wrote about the decline in American religious knowledge, 60% of Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.[iv] Another study claims that one third of Americans polled believe that evangelist Billy Graham delivered the Sermon on the Mount.[v]

With such non-reader ignorance, is it really any wonder that a number of Mormons are unfamiliar with some of the more difficult issues that have been discussed in Church publications? To repeat a comment generally attributed to Mark Twain: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”[vi]

The charge that the Church has hidden the truth has not landed on deaf ears.The Church “has made no effort to hide or obscure its history,” elder Marlin K. Jensen said, but some aspects “haven’t been emphasized often because they were not necessarily germane to what is taught at present.”

Can the Church do better to explain its history, even to its own members? Sure, Jensen said. “Can we weave some of this into our seminaries, institutes and adult curriculum? I think we can, and efforts are under way to do that.” The church has assigned a staffer to create “a strategy to get church history onto the Web,” he said. “We are also working on an initiative to answer some of these more pressing questions.” [vii]

We need better inoculation and I think the Church is making, and will continue to make, efforts to see this happen. The Joseph Smith Papers Project is a great start. This project has digitized a huge amount of early Mormon documents including early copies of the Book of Mormon, early revelations and letters, and even copies of the surviving portions of the Joseph Smith papyri. And it’s all available on-line, free for anyone who wants to study them.

While the Gospel is rich, simple, and the singular path to everlasting happiness, Church history is rich, complex, and multi-dimensional. Unfortunately, many past and current members have conflated the two by expressing historical narratives in a manner that undervalued their true complexities. The unfortunate consequence of circumscribed historical narratives resulted in the frustrated testimonies of twenty-first century members (both lay members and leaders) who first learned of the historical complexities on hostile websites.

The same twenty-first century technology which has contributed to member feelings of betrayal, however, is now being used by the Church (both in current and future projects) to help struggling members as well as to inoculate members before they stumble.

The entire world’s history of God’s involvement with His children is a story of imperfect humans accomplishing the work of the Lord even while continuing to struggle with sin, misunderstanding, feeble attempts, and weakness. The wonderful thing about such a realization is that God can also work through me—and each of us—despite our own weaknesses, sins, and faults.

_______________________________

* This article also appeared in Meridian Magazine.

[i] Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen, Mormon History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 117.

[ii] Ibid., 117, 119–120.

[iii] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 324.

[iv] Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Americans Get an ‘F’ in Religion,” USA Today (14 March 2007);available online  (accessed 17 September 2012).

[v] “What Americans Should But Don’t Know About Religion,” Pew Research Center Publications (6 February 2008) (accessed 17 September 2012).

[vi] While this quote is almost universally attributed to Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), I have been unable to find the original source for this quote. See James Glen Stovall  (accessed 14 December 2012).

FairMormon Frameworks 6: Russell Stevenson and “Elijah Ables”

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RussellStevensonRussell discusses with us today his his research into the life of the first black priesthood holder in this dispensation, Elijah Ables. We also extend to talking about the Priesthood ban, it’s history and implications, and what it means for one struggling today. 

Russell Stevenson is the author of  “Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables,” which is available on Amazon as an E-Book -Black Mormon: Story of Elijah Ables.

Benchmark Books – Story of Elijah Ables

Amazon – Hardcopy

 The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

 

Apostles and Apologetics: Doers of the Word

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Devotional-Elder ChristoffersonBack in April, I did a blog post on some of the apologetically relevant statements from General Conference, including the instruction, from Elder Robert D. Hales, to “protect and defend the kingdom of God.” Well, as with most things our leaders teach us to do, they are also doers of the word who practice what they preach.

In a recent devotional address at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressed some criticisms of the Church and made other apologetically relevant comments. Elder Christofferson opens up by briefly relating the visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith, and noting how Moroni told Joseph Smith that both good and evil would be spoken of him throughout the world (see Joseph Smith—History 1:33). This is an appropriate way to start, not only because it allows for the discussion of the good and the evil said about Joseph Smith and the Restoration today, but because Elder Christofferson was giving his address just days after the 190th anniversary of Moroni’s first visit to Joseph Smith. What an appropriate occasion to discuss the fulfillment of that prophecy! As Elder Christofferson remarks,

to think that this boy growing up in a poor family, in the smallest of small towns, in a country of limited influence and prestige in the world should come to such prominence that his name would be had for good or ill among all nations, kindreds, and people—it was truly (to use an overused word) incredible. Nevertheless, it is a prophecy that has been fulfilled in significant measure and that is more fully realized year by year.

Elder Christofferson talks about the monumental Joseph Smith Papers Project, as research initiative by the Church Historical Department intent on publishing every document written or commissioned by Joseph Smith. He notes that this “expanding access we enjoy to the Prophet’s work and teachings fills previous voids in our knowledge, confirms some things we already knew or thought, and supplies answers to questions we might have had. The information also raises new questions and highlights new areas of inquiry to pursue.” He also stresses that, “we ought not to expect in this life to know all the answers (or for that matter, all the questions).” This wide access to information of Joseph Smith, however, facilitates both aspects of Moroni’s prophecy – both the good and the evil to be spoken of Joseph Smith. Elder Christofferson reminds his audience of this, and offers three important principles to be applied when encountering the “evil” that is spoken of the prophet, his work, and his teachings.

You know, of course, that as prophesied by Moroni, there are those whose research relating to Joseph Smith is not for the purpose of gaining added light and knowledge but to undermine his character, magnify his flaws, and if possible destroy his influence. Their work product can sometimes be jarring, and so can issues raised at times by honest historians and researchers with no “axe to grind.” But I would offer you this advice in your own study: Be patient, don’t be superficial, and don’t ignore the Spirit.

First, be patient. Under this heading, Elder Christofferson reminds us that “while some answers come quickly or with little effort, others are simply not available for the moment because information or evidence is lacking. Don’t suppose, however, that a lack of evidence about something today means that evidence doesn’t exist or that it will not be forthcoming in the future. The absence of evidence is not proof.” John E. Clark, a professional archaeologist, is in agreement, as he once wrote:

Given current means of verification, positive evidence is here to stay, but negative items may prove to be positive ones in hiding. “Missing” evidence focuses further research, but it lacks the compelling logical force in arguments because it represents the absence of information rather than secure evidence.

As an example of this, Elder Christofferson cites a FairMormon blogpost by Book of Mormon scholar Matt Roper, which deals with steel in ancient Israel and the Book of Mormon. While no evidence supported the idea of a sword of “most precious steel” existing in 600 BC Jerusalem at the time the Book of Mormon was published (a lack of evidence that persisted for more than a century), it is now an accepted fact that the steeling of iron was known to Israelites well before Nephi’s time, and steel swords contemporary to the Book of Mormon account have been unearthed in the area. This is but one of many examples that could be given.

John E. Clark has collected sixty examples of alleged anachronisms that have been used against the Book of Mormon since 1829 and found that about sixty percent of them have now been verified by archaeology, while suggestive evidence has emerged for another ten (of the sixty) criticisms, though this evidence remains inconclusive. All in all, this means that evidence is more favorable to some degreenow than it was in 1830 in seventy-five percent of the sixty cases. Researcher Kevin Christensen recently reevaluated a Book of Mormon critique from 1982 to make the same point: with time (and research), many claims made against the Book of Mormon begin to look out-dated as new evidence offers support.

In a footnote to his address, Elder Christofferson also addressed the claim some critics have raised that Joseph Smith was wrong when he said there were religious revivals in the area of Palmyra in 1820. Elder Christofferson cited this FairMormon article and explained that greater access to original sources has revealed not only that revivals were common, but “that revivals were common enough that often they garnered no coverage in the newspapers unless something out of the ordinary occurred such as a death.” As with the Book of Mormon, historian Steven C. Harper has shown that criticisms of the First Vision have faded with time.These and the many similar examples underscore Elder Christofferson’s message of patience: “Where answers are incomplete or lacking altogether, patient study and patient waiting for new information and discoveries to unfold will often be rewarded with understanding.”

This leads well into Elder Christofferson’s second point, to not be superficial. Accepting the claims of critics or, as Elder Christofferson calls them, “insincere seekers,” at face value can be ill advised. Drawing on the words poet Alexander Pope, Elder Christofferson advises us to “drink deep” from the fountain of knowledge. Serious inquiry requires the time and patience mentioned above, and it rarely, if ever, assumes the “obvious” from quick and superficial study.

As a part of this, Elder Christofferson urges us to check our assumptions about the Church and it’s leaders. “When I say don’t be superficial, I mean don’t form conclusions based on unexamined assertions or incomplete research,” he says, and notes that, “We should be careful not to claim for Joseph Smith perfections he did not claim for himself. He need not have been superhuman to be the instrument in God’s hands that we know him to be.” Elder Christofferson quotes some of the many times in which Joseph Smith himself acknowledged his imperfections. Elder Christofferson then helps provide some of the big picture that critics often fail to see as they wade in the minutia of Church history: “Joseph Smith was a mortal man striving to fulfill an overwhelming, divinely- appointed mission against all odds. The wonder is not that he ever displayed human failings, but that he succeeded in his mission. His fruits are undeniable and undeniably good.”

In his address, Elder Christofferson contrasts this patient, deep mode of seeking with the tactics of those whom he terms “insincere seekers,” and distinguishes them from the honest researchers who may also raise serious, even if troubling, questions. He says:

While some honestly pursue truth and real understanding, others are intent on finding or creating doubts. Their interpretations may come from projecting 21st Century concepts and culture backward onto 19th Century people. If there are differing interpretations possible, they will pick the most negative. They sometimes accuse the Church of hiding something because they only recently found or heard about it—an interesting accusation for a Church that’s publishing 24 volumes of all it can find of Joseph Smith’s papers. They may share their assumptions and speculations with some glee, but either can’t or won’t search further to find contradictory information.

Most importantly, however, Elder Christofferson advises that as we seek answers to historical puzzles, we do not neglect the Spirit:

Finally, don’t neglect the Spirit. As regards Joseph Smith, we seek learning both by study and by faith. Both are fruitful paths of inquiry. A complete understanding can never be attained by scholarly research alone, especially since much of what is needed is either lost or never existed. There is no benefit in imposing artificial limits on ourselves that cut off the light of Christ and the revelations of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit has an important role in the process discussed above of exercising patience and “drinking deeply.” It is by the assurance of the Spirit that we can proceed to act in faith as we patiently seek answers about this or that historical issue. Elder Christofferson uses the example of the Mark Hoffman forgeries, and then stresses:

In matters of faith, a spiritual witness is essential if one is to avoid being “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. [Eph. 4:14]”  With a Spirit-derived assurance in place, you can go forward in the Lord’s work and continue deepening your relationship with your Heavenly Father while pursuing or awaiting answers. If you determine to sit still, paralyzed until every question is answered and every whisper of doubt resolved, you will never move because in this life there will always be some issue pending or something yet unexplained.

Ultimately, some answers will never come in this life. Faith is a principle of action, and it is in the acting that we often gain our testimonies. We must not let unanswered questions keep us from exercising our faith.

After discussing how to approach historical issues, Elder Christofferson goes on to remind us of what it most important:

Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling is key to our religion. Without his commission from the Father and the Son, without his priesthood ordinations and the keys he received at the hands of duly appointed heavenly messengers, without the fullness of the gospel restored through his visions and revelations and his translations of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, what we would have is something much less than true Christianity. It is critical that we gain a witness of these things by study and above all, by the teaching of the Holy Ghost.

He also adds that, “Despite all this, however, I remind you that Joseph Smith is not our foundation—it is Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. Joseph Smith, Jr. was called of God ‘to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and a prophet.’ [D&C 124:125]” While Elder Christofferson may seem, to some, to have departed from apologetics, I think here Elder Christofferson actually does something that is an important part of good apologetics: rather than just respond to objections, or talk about how to handle criticisms, Elder Christofferson also seeks to build faith. He does this by discussing the important things Joseph Smith accomplished as a prophet of the Lord Jesus Christ, and bearing testimony of those things. In apologetics, we must do more than simply address the negative. We must also provide the positive. We must give people reasons to believe. This can be done in a number of ways; bearing testimony, sharing evidences, or telling personal experiences of how the gospel and the Church have blessed you are only some examples. The exact method (or combination of methods) should probably be adapted based on circumstances, but it is always important to try and give the person who is doubting something positive to build on.

As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ speaking in a devotional setting, it is appropriate that Elder Christofferson used his own and Joseph Smith’s testimony of the Savior, the witness of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and the martyrdom of the prophet to serve as faith promoting points to build on. As the apostles often do, Elder Christofferson closes with his own testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

I bear witness of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, and to his magnificent revelation of Jesus, I reverently add my own testimony of the Christ. I too know that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He stands at the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is the Redeemer, and His grace is sufficient. I pray that all may receive the testimony of Joseph Smith and come unto Christ, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.