Teaching My Teacher

Diana Summerhays Graham


One autumn many years ago I was a new graduate student at Columbia University in New York City. In a large classroom full of students, our professor was discussing modern imitations of ancient texts. As he cited a list of forgeries, I was startled to hear him add the Book of Mormon to his list.

Instantly I knew I could not leave the classroom without doing something. I could not disappoint my ancestors, whose testimonies of the Book of Mormon had led them to sacrifice everything.

After class I approached the professor, who held the Charles Anthon chair at Columbia. More than 100 years before, Martin Harris had come to visit Professor Anthon at Columbia. Martin carried a paper with engravings copied from the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

I remembered my father sharing with me a letter his father wrote about Martin Harris. My grandfather told of seeing Martin shortly before Brother Harris died. When grandfather asked him about the Book of Mormon, Martin raised himself up from his bed and bore a strong testimony. He did see an angel, he did hear his voice, and he did view the plates of gold.

“My name is Diana, and I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” I said shakily to my professor. “The Book of Mormon, for me, is a book of scripture. I would like to hear your reasons for calling it a forgery.”

As we walked across the campus, the professor, who had read the Book of Mormon, listed several objections to its authenticity. I hurriedly wrote them down, and when he had finished, I asked him, “May I write what I learn from sources on the subject in response to these objections?” He agreed.

I walked back to the dorm, closed the door of my room, knelt in prayer, and began weeping. I felt weak and inadequate. Fortunately, that evening we had a Church activity. Following a discussion that lifted my spirit, I asked for help from the full-time missionaries, who had attended. They shared some sources of information that covered most of the points raised by my professor. Then I searched the vast library of Columbia. In my paper I addressed the professor’s questions and offered my testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Then I gave it to him.

I waited several weeks for his response. Finally I asked him if he had read it.

“Yes, and I gave it to my wife to read. She told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t destroy that student’s faith.’” He then turned and walked away.

As Christmas drew near, I was strongly impressed to give him a copy of the Book of Mormon. I found a copy, added my testimony, and thanked him for reading my paper. I then wrapped the book in Christmas paper and gave it to him. Shortly afterward, I received a handwritten note from him in which he expressed gratitude for receiving a copy of “this remarkable book.”

When I read his words, my eyes filled with tears. The Spirit whispered that this professor would no longer hold up the Book of Mormon to ridicule. I was grateful the Spirit had softened hearts and helped me know how to teach my teacher.

“The Book of Mormon, for me, is a book of scripture,” I told my professor. “I would like to hear your reasons for calling it a forgery.”