News of the Church


“Use the Book of Mormon,” President Benson Tells Michigan Area Conference

More than six thousand Latter-day Saints heard inspired counsel from President Ezra Taft Benson during the Michigan Area Conference in Ann Arbor October 12.

“The Book of Mormon was written for us,” President Benson told the congregation gathered at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Arena. “God told Mormon what to include in the abridgment for our day.”

President Benson added that “the two main purposes of the Book are, first, to be a witness for Jesus Christ and His gospel, testifying of His divinity and our need for a redeemer; and, second, to confound the enemies of Christ and put down false doctrines.”

In his address, President Benson pointed out that the criticisms voiced by “the apostates in the Book of Mormon are the same type that we encounter today in the form of false educational, political, and philosophical doctrines. Joseph Smith’s experience with a minister after the first vision sums up all criticism against the Church today: critics do not believe that God speaks to man today through living prophets.

“Latter-day Saints should use the Book of Mormon in answering objections to the Church,” he continued. “This can be done utilizing the following procedure: through careful and prayerful study we must understand [the Book of Mormon] better. Next, we must answer objections from the scriptures, stating that the correctness of our answer depends on whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet. Last, to determine whether or not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has modern revelation, the person voicing the objection must find out for himself if the Book of Mormon is true.”

President Benson stressed the need for “more and better prepared missionaries who know the Book of Mormon. This is a day of preparation,” he added. “We need missionaries to match our message. Those missionaries who use it know that the Book of Mormon is the instrument to convince the hearts of men. There is a difference between those converts who are built on the gospel and the Book of Mormon and those who are not.”

He counseled, “Our homes are not as calm unless we read the Book of Mormon. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings if we do not read it. Our missionaries are not as effective if they do not use it. We will not be as spirit-filled unless we hold fast to its truths. …

“Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of the Book of Mormon a lifelong pursuit.”

President Benson was accompanied by his wife, Flora, and by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve and Sister Perry, all of whom spoke during the conference.

Following President Benson’s address, the choir sang “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.” The closing prayer was offered by President W. E. Barry Mayo of the Bloomfield Hills Michigan Stake.

Elder Keith W. Wilcox of the First Quorum of the Seventy, representing the area presidency, conducted the area conference—the first in the Michigan Area since 1980. Members present represented the eight Michigan stakes and southeastern Ontario.

The first branch of the Church in the Michigan Territory was organized in 1833, four years before Michigan was granted statehood. Its early membership grew rapidly until most of the Saints emigrated to Utah during the late 1840s. From that point, Church growth in the Midwest progressed slowly until Michigan’s first stake, the Detroit Stake, was organized by President Benson in 1952. Eight stakes and two missions have since been organized in an area now consisting of more than twenty thousand members.

Correspondent: Jeff Kulesus, public communications director, Bloomfield Hills Region.

[photo] President and Sister Benson at the Michigan Area Conference, which more than six thousand members attended. (Photo by Christopher Abbott.)

Ricks College Inaugurates Twelfth President

President Ezra Taft Benson presided as Joe J. Christensen was inaugurated as the twelfth president of Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, October 10.

The inauguration, originally scheduled for 8 November 1985, was postponed because of the death of President Spencer W. Kimball. President Christensen has been serving as acting president of the college in the interim.

Speaking of President Christensen in the inaugural address, President Benson said: “I thank the Lord for this great leader you have at this institution of learning, and I hope and pray that he will have the opportunity, from time to time, to spread his philosophy throughout this student body.

“God bless the students who are here,” President Benson added. “I know that God will bless them as they seek to have his Spirit in the classroom.” Referring to that Spirit, the President said, “It’s so needed today.”

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the formal charge of responsibility to President Christensen.

“This institution is unique among colleges,” he said. “Here are taught truths that are eternal, unchanging, and ever more.

“I charge you to educate your students in truth. Train their minds and hands to serve with skill and with trust. Teach them principles of morality and honesty that will enhance their worth as citizens of society and of the kingdom of God. Cause them to honor our Creator, who lends us breath and sustains us from day to day.”

Accepting the charge, President Christensen said, “I appreciate belonging to a church that emphasizes the importance of truth and its pursuit. Our faith teaches that the gospel of Jesus Christ embraces all truth.

“I like that idea,” he continued. “It helps make every academic subject one studies a meaningful part of the pursuit of truth and in ways a meaningful religious experience.”

Elder Robert B. Harbertson of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Bishop Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, also attended the inaugural ceremony. J. Elliot Cameron, commissioner of the Church Educational System, conducted.

Others present included Barbara W. Winder, Relief Society general president; Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women general president; and Dwan J. Young, Primary general president.

President Christensen succeeds Bruce C. Hafen, who now serves as dean of the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School. President Christensen has served for more than thirty years in the Church Educational System and was an assistant commissioner prior to his appointment at Ricks College.

He has served as the director of the Institutes of Religion adjacent to Washington State University, the University of Idaho, and the University of Utah.

From 1980 to 1983 President Christensen was president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. He is also a former president of the Mexico City Mission and currently serves as regional representative in the Shelley and Custer Idaho regions. He also serves as commissioner in the Teton Peaks Council, Boy Scouts of America.

He completed his undergraduate work at Utah State University and Brigham Young University and earned a Ph.D. from Washington State University.

He and his wife, the former Barbara Kohler of Midway, Utah, have six children and fourteen grandchildren.

New president of Ricks College

President Ezra Taft Benson, right, presided over the inauguration of Joe J. Christensen, left, as twelfth president of Ricks College. (Photography by Eldon Linschoten.)

Elder Hunter Undergoes Surgery

Elder Howard W. Hunter, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, underwent coronary bypass surgery October 12 at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. The surgery was successful, and Elder Hunter is now recovering at home.

Tabernacle Choir, Shirley Verrett in TV Special

The Tabernacle Choir and internationally renowned opera soprano Shirley Verrett star in a one-hour Christmas television special to be broadcast the evening of December 12.

“Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Shirley Verrett,” filmed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and on Temple Square, features a variety of popular and traditional Christmas classics. It will be broadcast nationally over the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) television network Friday, December 12, beginning at 10:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. Check local listings to verify time and station.

The telecast will be repeated Sunday, December 14 at 7:00 P.M. (MST) in the Intermountain area, where it will appear on station KUED (Channel 7).

Provo Tabernacle Rededicated

Under the direction of President Ezra Taft Benson, President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, rededicated the hundred-year-old Provo (Utah) Tabernacle on September 21. Preceding the dedicatory prayer, the capacity crowd heard addresses from President Benson, President Monson, and Elder Paul H. Dunn, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Second Counselor in the Utah South Area Presidency.

Construction on the tabernacle, which was first recommended by President Brigham Young, began in 1883. The building was in use by 1885, and the fifty-sixth and fifty-seventh annual Church general conferences were held there in 1886 and 1887, even though the Provo tabernacle wasn’t dedicated until 17 April 1898. The tabernacle has undergone extensive restoration during the past three years.

In his address, President Benson praised the efforts of the members of the Church in furthering the Lord’s work on earth. “Never have the efforts of so few resulted in the blessing of so many,” he said.

Noting that still more needs to be done, President Benson pointed to six things members can do to increase their faith. Advising Saints to increase love at home, President Benson said, “Husbands and wives must love and cherish one another. Selfish attitudes must be overcome. Faults must be overlooked. Contention must cease. Husbands and wives must be true and loyal to each other and to the sacred covenant of marriage.”

He also advised members to draw near to the Lord in personal prayer. “Is there a man or woman in this Church who, in his or her most private, intimate moments, does not feel a deficiency in faith and spirituality?” he asked.

President Benson urged Church members to read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures as a way to develop “spiritual mindedness.” He said the Book of Mormon teaches that “blessings come by keeping the commandments of God and that tragedy is the result of disobedience. By learning the lessons of the past, mistakes need not be repeated in our own lives.”

Members were also told to attend the temple frequently in order to become more Christlike and to magnify their Church callings. Referring to reports from bishops and stake presidents that some members turn down calls to serve on the premise that they’re too busy, he said, “The Lord expects each of us to have a calling in His church so others may be blessed by our talents and influence. He expects us to magnify those callings.

“If we are too busy to hold a Church calling, we had better look at our priorities,” he added.

Finally, President Benson urged members to serve their fellowmen with “quiet acts” not compelled by duty.

In his remarks, President Monson bore witness of President Benson as a living prophet, adding that he knows of “no man who lives closer to God than His prophet, seer, and revelator.”

President Monson joined President Benson in counseling members to read and follow the teachings of the Book of Mormon. He also urged the Saints to help distribute this holy work of scripture. “We never know, my brothers and sisters, when the conveyance of a gift such as the Book of Mormon will bring to others the supreme benefit of eternal life,” he said.

In rededicating the tabernacle, President Monson said, “We dedicate our lives to the past and to the present and to the future—to the past, because we came out if it; the present, because we live in it; and the future because our children will inherit it.”

Elder Paul H. Dunn discussed both the physical and spiritual structures members build, noting that the spiritual side of man is built by reading the scriptures.

During the rededication, President Benson was presented a notebook containing the names of 5,352 members in the Provo Utah Region who had committed to read or reread the Book of Mormon in the coming year.

[photo] Photo by Gerald Silver, Church News

Earthquake Brings Death, Injury to Members in San Salvador

The earthquake that struck San Salvador, El Salvador, October 10 took the lives of two members and seriously injured five others. In addition, the homes of 245 member families were severely damaged or destroyed.

That news came from Elder Gene R. Cook of the First Quorum of the Seventy and President of the Mexico-Central America Area, who reported the information to the First Presidency after visiting the afflicted area.

He said there were no injuries or deaths among the missionaries serving there, all of whom are Latin Americans. He also noted that some one hundred Church members received minor injuries from the quake, which measured 5.4 on the Richter scale.

Elder Cook arrived in San Salvador October 12 and met with the presidents of the three stakes in the city. By then, relief efforts, under the direction of Carlos Amado, regional representative, and Lynn Justice, director of temporal affairs, were under way. More than six hundred people were being housed in Church meetinghouses, and fourteen hundred people were being fed from food supplied by surrounding stakes and by Guatemala City.

By October 13, the Church had sent three planeloads of food, medicine, and other supplies to San Salvador. The Bishop’s Central Storehouse provided 150 tents to serve as temporary shelters for the homeless.

No food crisis was expected, because stores in the area were well supplied. One LDS chapel in the quake area retained its water supply and was providing safe water for many victims.

On October 15, El Salvador President Jose Napoleon Duarte estimated the national death toll at nearly twelve hundred. The adobe-type construction of the homes in San Salvador contributed to the heavy destruction.

Sixteen-year-old Neidyn Janette Martinez of the Santa Anita Ward, San Salvador Stake, was pinned under the wall of her house after the home was destroyed by the earthquake.

The young girl had to remain in the rubble for two days before rescuers could get to her. Her bishop, Jose Emilio Montepeque, tried desperately to comfort her and lift her spirits as she lay pinned under the wreckage. “You would do anything to get out of your part in the Young Women Worldwide Celebration Program (held the very next day), wouldn’t you?” Bishop Montepeque teased.

“No way,” she responded. “I know my part by heart.”

When the bishop asked her to recite her part for him, she repeated it several times without hesitation.

Family members were finally able to get enough help to pull her from under the wall. She was taken to the San Rafael Clinic, where Elder Cook and Mission President Manuel Diaz gave her a blessing.

She was paralyzed from the chin down and was told she would live for only twenty-four hours without an operation. Since the only neurosurgeon available in the area was at the military hospital, Sister Martinez was packed with sandbags and moved to the hospital.

Just before the doctors began to operate, the girl said to them, “Before you touch me, kneel down and pray first.”

The doctors and all the other people in the operating room knelt and prayed. The operation was finished at 9:00 A.M., and Sister Martinez is making an excellent recovery.

Rumor Concerning Early Oliver Cowdery History Refuted by Church Researchers

After months of research, officials of the Church Historical Department have concluded there is no substance to widely circulated rumors that the Church owns a very early history of the Church written by Oliver Cowdery, who was the Church’s first historian.

However, the Church does own a little-known draft of President Joseph Smith’s published history that some persons apparently have mistakenly assumed to be the Oliver Cowdery history, according to Richard E. Turley, Jr., assistant managing director of the Historical Department. Although the first part of the draft is missing, the extant written pages cover the period from the baptism of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery up through the first several months of the Church’s organization.

Because the period covered by this draft overlaps the period thought to be covered by the Cowdery history, some persons have assumed the draft must be Oliver Cowdery’s early history.

The document’s internal evidence, however, such as reference to the second edition of the Book of Mormon, shows it was written much later than the Cowdery history, Brother Turley said. Although he would not speculate about who may have penned the draft, he said the contents closely follow corresponding pages of volume 1 of Joseph Smith’s History of the Church. The draft makes no reference to salamanders, nor does it attribute a greater role in Church history to Alvin Smith, brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, than does the published history.

The Church’s second official historian, John Whitmer, wrote that his predecessor, Oliver Cowdery, had “written the commencement of the church history, commencing at the time of the finding of the (gold) plates, up to June 12th, 1831.” Over the years, many scholars have interpreted the historical evidence to mean that the Church never obtained the Cowdery history from the writer himself or his successor. A careful search of the historical collections of the Church now corroborates this conclusion.

In the late nineteenth century, Church Historian Franklin D. Richards and his staff tried unsuccessfully to locate the Oliver Cowdery history. For several years in the 1890s, they corresponded and visited with Missouri resident George Schweich, who they thought might own such a history.

A grandson of David Whitmer, who in turn was a brother-in-law of Oliver Cowdery, Schweich owned some important historical materials, including the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon and the John Whitmer history. For a time, Elder Richards and his staff believed Schweich also owned the Cowdery history. Ultimately, however, they were disappointed.

When Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson visited Missouri in 1893, Schweich gave him access to historical materials and allowed him to copy the John Whitmer history. In reporting his success to Elder Richards, Jenson also noted in disappointment that Schweich did not own an Oliver Cowdery history.

In an 1893 report to Elder Richards, Jenson wrote, “Mr. Schweich rather conveyed the idea that the Oliver Cowdery heirs in Southwest City, Mo., had Oliver Cowdery’s old papers; but he did not know.”

When Oliver Cowdery died in 1850, he was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, and a daughter, Maria Louise Cowdery, who eventually married but had no children. Oliver’s widow and daughter both died in Southwest City in 1892, leaving Oliver without descendants.

Extant correspondence of Maria Louise indicated that the family burned Oliver’s old papers, finding them too cumbersome to carry on their many moves.

Despite this historical evidence, some have speculated that two statements of former Church Historian Joseph Fielding Smith demonstrate the Church owns the history. In 1925, Elder Smith wrote:

“Oliver Cowdery was the first one appointed to assist Joseph in transcribing and keeping a history of the Church. John Whitmer took his place, when Oliver Cowdery was given something else to do. We have on file in the Historian’s Office the records written in the hand writing of Oliver Cowdery, the first historian, or recorder, of the Church.”

In 1947, Elder Smith described the early Oliver Cowdery records in more detail:

“The earliest records of the Church are in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. He acted as scribe and reporter, generally in the early conferences of the Church. These minutes and items of doctrine are recorded in manuscript books now filed in the Historian’s Office. They are invaluable.”

At first glance, these statements seem to imply Church ownership of the early Oliver Cowdery history. However, employees of the Church Historial Department have carefully searched the Church’s historical collections, including the First Presidency’s vault, and have found no evidence that the Church ever obtained the early Oliver Cowdery history. No such record appears on any past or present inventories, catalogs, or other lists of the Church’s collections. None of the persons most familiar with these collections remembers ever having seen such an item in Church possession. Several interviews with outside scholars have also failed to turn up any evidence of Church ownership.

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith’s statements likely refer to records that are already well known to scholars. In the more detailed of his two statements, Elder Smith described the Church-owned Oliver Cowdery records as “minutes and items of doctrine.” Scholars of Church history are familiar with a number of manuscript volumes that contain entries made by Oliver Cowdery himself or copied from notes taken originally by him.

One such volume is the Far West Record, which was published in 1983 by permission of the First Presidency of the Church. The scribes who compiled this volume copied into it loose sheets of minutes that had accumulated during the first few years of the Church’s organization, including the minutes of the earliest Church conferences, which were kept by Oliver Cowdery.

As faithful copyists, the scribes also copied into the volume the names of clerks who had signed the now-lost original minutes. It appears likely that Elder Smith assumed the copied minutes were originals in Oliver’s hand because the minutes for which Oliver served as clerk bear his name.

Other historical evidence also shows Elder Smith’s statements did not refer to the early Oliver Cowdery history. Between the years that he made his two statements, Elder Smith received a letter from James H. Moyle, who was serving as president of the Church’s Eastern States Mission. President Moyle wrote that he was studying “in detail the history of the Prophet Joseph Smith” and asked “when Joseph Smith’s own story of his first vision was first redu ced to writing and when it was first published.”

In describing the various accounts of the Church’s earliest days, Elder Smith replied, “Oliver Cowdery wrote the first account of these early scenes in a number of letters which were published in the Messenger and Advocate, and as he received the information from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

Later in the letter, Elder Smith wrote, “The Prophet was not giv[en] to writing in those early days, and it was by verbal communication that his story was told to members of his family and others until after the organization of the Church. Then it was that Oliver Cowdery undertook to tell the story.”

In this letter to Moyle, a trusted Church official, Elder Smith shows his belief that the first narrative history of the Church’s earliest days was the history published by Oliver Cowdery in the Messenger and Advocate. Thus, the letter underscores the conclusion that Elder Smith’s statements about early Oliver Cowdery records referred to volumes such as the Far West Record, not the early Oliver Cowdery history mentioned by John Whitmer.