October 3-4 is General Conference, when the leaders of the church will speak to us. In light of this, I decided to share the following experience with you.
Growing up Mormon in the Bible-belt is like being a giraffe in a pride of lions. When people find out you're "one of them" they get this wide-eyed, gasping sort of look on their faces and run away...possibly telling you you are going to hell as they race for the nearest exit.
Being different was a way of life for me and the members of the little congregation I attended. Most of the adults had been raised in other faiths and converted to the LDS church as adults, my mother included. These good brothers and sisters had come to the church armed with knowledge of and faith in Jesus Christ. In the LDS church they had found more. They embraced their new-found religion with zeal and passion, teaching me the wonderful new things they were learning. Although I remember hearing Bible stories and learning about Jesus, those things seemed to take a back seat to the Book of Mormon and modern revelation.
Looking back, I believe these factors contributed to a certain deficiency in my religious education. By the time I was in college I realized that I had a nearly unshakable testimony in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. What I was lacking was a testimony of the Savior.
Now, let me be clear. This lack of testimony on my part was not from an absence of the Savior in LDS doctrine. It wasn't that I hadn't been taught about Him either. The attitude I recall was "Everyone believes in Jesus. We believe in this, too. Let's talk about it."
As I said, I really began to notice my flawed education in college. I went to BYU, where religion classes are part of the graduation requirements. Some of them were...superficial; I didn't really get much out of them. Some were wonderful.
I remember one class in particular. We were discussing a passage about the Atonement and repentance. A young man raised his hand and made a comment. It seemed logical. I remember having a fleeting feeling that I really needed to learn more about this because I had never heard this particular idea before. The professor became very serious and asked the young man where he had heard that particular doctrine. He answered that he had learned it from his seminary teacher. (Seminary is a scripture study program for high-school students). Our professor asked for everyone's attention and told us that what the young man had said was false doctrine. He explained why this particular concept was wrong and asked to speak with the young man after class to discuss it further.
I was shaken. I had not expected that. Not here. In Utah. At "the Lord's University". I was especially unsettled at how easy it was to believe such a comment when it was clearly wrong. This experience put me on guard. Over the next few years, I had other experiences with fellow students that unsettled me, all of them involving repentance and the Atonement. Each time, I felt acutely aware of my weakness in understanding this subject. I thought I understood but then someone would say something completely contradictory.
Each month during the school year, the Church Educational System (CES) sponsors a fireside for young adults. They are live from BYU campus and broadcast by satellite around the world. One Sunday evening, I went to the Marriot Center for the CES fireside. As I recall, someone else was scheduled to speak but President Thomas S. Monson came instead. He was a member of the First Presidency at the time. He began by explaining why he was there. Some false doctrines had been circulating among the young people of the church and he was there to set the record straight. He did not mention what was being said. Instead he spent the next hour teaching us about repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Chrsit. He did not tell amusing stories or share sweet little quotes. He taught pure, clear doctrine about Jesus Christ.
I sat there, surrounded by hundreds of students, in humble astonishment and awe. In that moment, I knew with 100% surety why there are living prophets on the earth today. I knew that this man and his fellow Apostles had the authority to speak the words of the Lord, to clarify doctrine, and keep the church on the straight and narrow path. I knew because he had answered every question I had. He had clarified the principles that were the subject of so many unsettling conversations. I was filled with the peace of the Holy Ghost, testifying that what this man was saying was true. I also realized that the unsettling feeling I had experienced before was not from my lack of understanding but because the things I was hearing were wrong.
My self-doubt disappeared. I now felt confident in my ability to learn about the Savior and receive my own testimony about this vital part of the gospel. It took time. I still feel like there is much more for me to learn about this and other gospel subjects. But I also know where I can turn for those answers. I know how to distinguish between what is true and what is not. And I know that the Lord always provides for those who are seeking His guidance.