Mormon Yale Students Give Book of Mormon Presentation
By Michelle Garrett, Church News staff writer
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT
Studying religion at an Ivy League school isn’t always easy for an active Latter-day Saint. For both Erik Yingling and Bryan Bozung, their experiences at Yale have been both challenging and enlightening.
In January, they offered a presentation to the Yale Divinity School on the Book of Mormon.
Brother Bozung said they had a decent turnout on the day of the presentation, and he thought the people there were sincerely interested in learning more about the Church.
“They genuinely wanted to see what the Mormon perspective was, not to be argumentative about it by any means,” he said.
Though both Latter-day Saints discussed some academic aspects of the Book of Mormon, such as the use of literary devices like chiasmus and differences in authorship, they also bore their testimonies of the book and how it has guided their lives.
“We wanted them to actually open the Book of Mormon and read it, so we gave everyone a copy,” Brother Bozung said. “Rather than just talking about the Book of Mormon, we read some passages with them to show them examples of our doctrine.”
Brother Yingling said they emphasized passages that are meaningful to Latter-day Saints.
After their presentation, they invited questions. Stephen Weber, the LDS chaplain at Yale, said the students, who came from a variety of religious backgrounds, asked tough but insightful questions, and there was never a spirit of contention or controversy in the room.
“I can’t believe how many friends I’ve gained from that experience,” Brother Yingling said of the presentation. “I still run into those people in the hallways, and they still ask me questions. The conversation still continued.”
Brother Weber said there are 107 LDS students attending Yale University. Three-fourths are graduate students and 90 percent are married.
“They are wonderful young people,” Brother Weber said. “Although there are many who would suppose these young people to be arrogant or haughty, I find them to be sincere, curious, anxious to be engaged in good works, and very faithful to the Lord.”
Brother Weber said these students are a minority not only because they are LDS but also because of their standards, morals, and very conversation. He said they are more alone and more unique than students at other universities—and very strong as a result.
The Yale students are also very active in missionary work; Brother Weber said he has seen 21 baptisms since he first came to Connecticut three years ago.
Bryan Bozung is from Highland, Utah, and studied economics at Brigham Young University before applying to Yale for a graduate degree in religion, with an emphasis in second temple Judaism. He lives in the New Haven Ward, New Haven Connecticut Stake, with his wife and two young children.
Brother Bozung said he has noticed that his peers at the Yale Divinity School often have different questions about the Church than would any one person off the street. His fellow students don’t ask about a Church member’s lifestyle but about the Church’s doctrinal beliefs in Christ, heaven, or eternity. He said he has enjoyed learning more about his classmates’ beliefs in return.
“It’s definitely changed my perspective on some things and at the same time fortified my faith,” he said.
Erik Yingling is from Alpine, Utah, and received his undergraduate degree in Near Eastern studies from BYU. He also lives in the New Haven Ward with his wife and two children and studies religion at Yale, with an emphasis in liturgical studies.
Brother Yingling said he decided to pursue a degree in religion while reading a biography about Henry Eyring, President Henry B. Eyring’s father, that said you should research something that you thought about all the time. He realized that the study of religion was something he couldn’t get out of his head, so he pursued it.
Brother Yingling said that although it can be hard to study among many people who view religion in only an academic light, he has had a positive experience learning from the diverse backgrounds of his classmates.
He said he has had many positive experiences sharing his beliefs with those he comes in contact with at Yale. One of his professors is writing a book about baptism and communion and plans to include a chapter on LDS practices. One of his professors and about 15 classmates once also attended a sacrament meeting where he gave a talk. Some of them stayed for class afterward and have expressed interest in coming back another time.
“People here are very open-minded,” Brother Yingling said. “It’s a great setting for a Mormon to be in. People have been truly inviting and willing to learn.”