From his childhood, John Sears Tanner has found joy in learning.
That excitement has extended to his education, career, and his many opportunities to teach the gospel: first as a missionary in the Brazil South Mission and then as a bishop, stake president, high councilor, Gospel Doctrine teacher, president of the Brazil São Paulo South Mission (which concludes this summer), and now as first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency.
“When [teaching] happens right, the Holy Ghost is there and you feel the excitement of learning; you feel like you’re on sacred ground,” President Tanner says.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 27, 1950, to William Coats Tanner Jr. and Athelia Sears Tanner, President Tanner grew up in South Pasadena, California, USA, as the fifth of 13 children. His parents created a rich educational environment in the home, including a strong gospel core. “I don’t remember learning anything at church that I hadn’t already learned at home,” he says. He also developed a love for literature that was nurtured as he pursued an English degree from Brigham Young University and a doctorate in English at the University of California, Berkeley.
While at BYU he met Susan Winder. The two developed a strong friendship from which they later built a romantic relationship. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1974. Together they have raised five children.
President Tanner began his academic career as an assistant professor at Florida State University. He became a member of the faculty at BYU in 1982; he has worked there ever since as an assistant, associate, and full professor of English, and as department chairman and academic vice president.
The most important part of gospel teaching, he says, comes from something he learned early in his career: teaching must come not from a place of fear or ambition but from a place of love—from charity, the pure love of Christ.