This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week we’re covering the Sunday afternoon session of the October 1988 General Conference.
When I read the scriptures as a teenager, it seemed like they were full of statements that the Gospel of Christ was necessary and sufficient for a prosperous, peaceful society. To be honest, I’m not entirely certain that there are that many scriptures that say exactly this. The one that comes to mind is Alma 31:5 where Alma–who, just as a reminder, had led his people personally into combat as chief judge and killed Amlici–decides that when the Nephites are really in trouble, what is needed is preaching the word of God:
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
This was impossible for me to believe as a youngster. Surely questions of peaceful, stable societies were questions for experts in international relations or Constitutional law and economics, right? I supposed that there was probably some way in which you’d need to make sure your foreign and domestic policies were reconciled to basic Christian principles, but I couldn’t see any direct connection between religion and peaceful societies, nor any specific link to Christianity as opposed to any number of honorable and laudable religions.
The older I’ve gotten, the more of come to doubt my initial doubts.
For one thing, I’ve come to realize that formal institutions are overrated. The laws on the books don’t tell the whole story. What matters more than politics is culture. It’s culture that largely determines what laws end up on the books, it’s culture that determines how those laws are applied and enforced and–since laws can’t possibly cover every possible scenario–it’s culture that determines what we do in the gaps between laws. This isn’t entirely one-way. Laws and policies can and do affect culture, but if you’re going to ask: which matters more, the answer is very, very clearly culture.
This helps me understand some of why the prophets kept insisting that it’s the Gospel that really matters. It gets me part of the way there. But not all the way.
I’ve had intimations that go beyond this, but nothing I’m prepared to sketch out here. My point is only to say that I really took Elder Richard G. Scott’s words to heart from his talk, True Friends That Lift. (Which, alternatively, could have been a great treatise on bodybuilding.)
Speaking of all the work and effort he’d put into teaching the Gospel and setting the Church in order for six years in Mexico vs. bearing his testimony of the Book of Mormon, he said:
As I spoke, I realized in my heart that all the efforts that I had expended for six years in trying to help those beloved leaders overcome the effects of false traditions and learn to apply the teachings of the Lord would have been better directed had I strongly encouraged them to ponder and apply the teachings of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon contains messages that were divinely placed there to show how to correct the influence of false tradition and how to receive a fulness of life. It teaches how to resolve the problems and challenges that we face today that were foreseen by the Lord. In that book he has provided the way to correct the serious errors of life, but this guidance is of no value if it remains locked in a closed book.
He also pointed out that we can’t treat the Book of Mormon like some kind of talisman or super good luck charm. We have to, you know, read it: “it is not sufficient that we should treasure the Book of Mormon, nor that we testify that it is of God. We must know its truths, incorporate them into our lives, and share them with others.”
My mental models and theories haven’t caught up to this truth, but it still resonates deeply with me. It’s like I have yet to dig up the buried treasure and see it with my own eyes, but the metal detector is pinging and I know there’s something down there.
I’m going to keep pondering and contemplating how and how the Gospel of Christ is necessary and sufficient because that’s how I approach the world. It’s my means of interacting with the things that I care about. And I believe that, in time, I’ll come to understand the truth much more than I do now.
But, spoiler alert, I already know how it ends. The Gospel of Christ in general and the Book of Mormon in particular are vitally important both individual and communally, and I hope we will take Elder Scott’s testimony (and the testimony of many others) very seriously and invest the time to integrate them into our lives.
Other posts from this week’s General Conference Odyssey