Church History Symposium examines Mormonism's global reach

Published: Friday, March 7 2014 5:10 p.m. MST

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints visits with Church Historian and Recorder, Elder Steven E. Snow, in the Conference Center Little Theater during the Church History Symposium.

Mormon Newsroom

SALT LAKE CITY — How The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is adjusting to meet the needs of an international membership was the theme this year of the annual Church History Symposium jointly organized by Brigham Young University and the LDS Church History Department.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church’s First Presidency, was the keynote speaker Friday morning at the LDS Conference Center Theater. The two-day symposium, titled “The Worldwide Church: the Global Reach of Mormonism,” began Thursday on the BYU campus in Provo with a full day of scholarly presentations and an evening keynote speech by Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond in Virginia and a prolific and popular author on intellectual topics about Mormonism.

President Uchtdorf drew his theme from a quoted remark by novelist Michael Crichton: “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

“History teaches us not only about the leaves of existence,” President Uchtdorf commented. “It also teaches about the twigs, branches, trunks and roots of life. And these lessons are important.”

The church leader said a failing of mortal men and women “is to assume that our ‘leaf’ is all there is — that our experience encompasses everyone else’s, that our truth is complete and universal.” He said the gospel of Christ that Mormonism embraces encompasses all truth, “not only the truth of what was and what is but the truth of what can and will be.”

God warns his children repeatedly not to place their trust in the world’s wisdom, observed President Uchtdorf, “yet we have an almost irresistible desire to assume that the leaf of information we have in our possession is a representation of all there is to know.”

He related an incident of Frederick the Great, the 18th century king of Prussia. After a military defeat, many of Frederick’s soldiers scattered in confusion. A soldier brought before the king was asked why he had run away.

“Because things were going badly for your majesty,” was the reply.

“Frederick reflected for a moment, then said mildly, ‘I suggest that you wait a week. Then, if things are still going badly, we will quit together,’ ” President Uchtdorf recounted.

“There will be times when it may appear that things are going badly for the truth of God — that the evidence of the world contradicts God’s utterances. For my part, I have learned to be patient, knowing that in the end things will work out. God’s kingdom will continue to grow. The truth will continue to flourish and spread throughout the earth. Sometimes all it takes is a little faith and a little patience.”

In his speech Thursday night, Givens said the LDS Church faces the same challenge that confronted Christian leaders after the death of Christ: “How do you export and disseminate the gospel in all of its purity and goodness to myriad peoples, nationalities, ethnic groups and societies without the cultural trappings and accretions it has acquired?”

Givens commented: “Our ideas of what it means to be saints, to worship God, to live the life of discipleship are shaped by myriad factors conscious and unconscious. Forms of address, rhetorical habits, music, instrumentation, the language of prayer, modes of engaging the sacred, etiquette and interaction and how we express love, these and a million other constituents of the religious life are not eternal verities or immutable truths but shifting modes of pursuing and living truth.”

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