It’s been a good week, thus far. On Monday morning, my wife and I read through the latest iteration of the script for the pending Interpreter Foundation Six Days in August theatrical film. I’m really liking it, and it’s improving, becoming tighter and more focused, with each set of revisions. That afternoon, we met with our three principal filmmakers — Mark Goodman, James Jordan, and Russell Richins — who were also the core of our Witnesses project and, before that, for our brief film portrait of the late Robert Cundick. That evening, my wife and I attended a play at the Hale Centre Theatre entitled Hans Christian Andersen in New York. The next day, Tuesday, was spent mostly at a barbecue with my wife’s family up north of Salt Lake City, topped off by attending a showing of the new movie Sound of Freedom. (“God’s children are not for sale.”) And then we were out the door fairly early this morning (Wednesday). We’ve just come back from dinner at the Dough Zone Dumpling House. I really liked it, despite my embarrassing incompetence with chopsticks. (And there’s this: A few of my weirder critics go absolutely mad when I mention restaurants here.)
I’ve been thinking again of two accounts that I heard about the late President James E. Faust from widely separated sources who almost certainly had never met, let alone interacted, conferred, or colluded: Back in the first half of 1993, when my family and I were living there, a friend in Jerusalem told me of hearing then-Elder Faust say, in remarks to the Tabernacle Choir during its end-of-1992 visit to Israel, that he had the same testimony of Jesus that the brother of Jared had. My friend took that to be a modest way, by referring to Ether 3:7-20, for Elder Faust, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time, to tell his audience that, like the ancient Book of Mormon prophet Mahonri Moriancumr, commonly called “the brother of Jared,” he had seen the Savior. (Elder Faust went on to serve as the second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1995 until his death in 2007.) Perhaps a year later, while I was visiting with a stake president in Wellington, New Zealand, that stake president told me of having heard Elder Faust bear his testimony to a group of missionaries (including the future stake president) in Australia. Elder Faust said that his testimony of Jesus was the same as that of the brother of Jared. The stake president took that statement in precisely the same way that my friend in Jerusalem had taken it.
And that reminds me of something that President Spencer W. Kimball said at the close of the priesthood session of the April 1978 general conference of the Church. His speech that evening was titled “Strengthening the Family—the Basic Unit of the Church.” What really arrested my attention, though, was the very last paragraph of his talk, which was given as follows:
“I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ lives,” said John Taylor, my predecessor, “for I have seen him.” I bear this testimony to you brethren in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Many of my readers will know what things were like that night. We had been sitting in our darkened room, the cultural hall of our stake center in California, watching the broadcast or videotaped proceedings of the priesthood session on a screen. Some around me were asleep, or at least drifting. And then President Kimball said what he said. It wasn’t connected to any of the prior material in his speech; he was simply bearing his testimony at the conclusion of his remarks. He didn’t raise his voice or shout. But what, exactly, had he just said? I remember looking about at the men sitting around me, looking for signs that they were as stunned as I was. I saw none. But I was certain that I hadn’t misheard. And I confirmed that I had heard the Prophet accurately when all of the conference speeches were published in the official Church magazine, the Ensign, shortly thereafter.
I took President Kimball as having almost certainly said, implicitly but unmistakably, that he had seen the Savior. And, although virtually nobody else ever commented on his testimony that evening, at least one other person had noticed it besides me. That was the late Eugene England. In a 1985 BYU Studies article entitled “A Small and Piercing Voice: The Sermons of Spencer W. Kimball,” Professor England referred specifically — and, appropriately, at the very end of his own essay — to that very same priesthood session address:
The sermon ends with a . . . challenge, one that is spiritual rather than moral, but one that has . . . received little attention, perhaps because it was not really noticed. In the way characteristic of sermo humilis, the President moved without any transition or any dramatic explanation to a short, small, unique, typically humble and indirect, but piercing testimony of his prophetic calling and consequent experience with the divine.
I think it pretty evident that the precise formulation of President Kimball’s last-paragraph testimony was extemporaneous, off the cuff, rather than researched and pre-planned and written out. Why do I think that? Because he got something wrong. He was going from memory, I think, and his memory was incorrect. So far as I can tell, it wasn’t John Taylor, President Kimball’s nineteenth-century predecessor as leader of the Church, who had declared “I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ lives, for I have seen him.” It was George Q. Cannon, President Taylor’s counselor in the First Presidency. In precisely those words. Here is some relevant further information about George Q. Cannon’s experience: “Remembering the history of the LDS Church on the Hawaiian Islands,” “When George Q. Cannon Saw the Savior” and “The Sacred History of the Church in Hawaii.”
Posted from Seattle, Washington
Postscript: A reader named msandgren has sent me the following:
“Brother Peterson, many years ago I was serving a mission in the Portugal Porto Mission when Elder Faust and his wife visited on a mission tour. He was fluent in Portuguese due to his mission in Brazil and his many trips thereafter as a General Authority. I had the opportunity to meet him at one of the Zone Conferences at which he spoke entirely in Portuguese. I will never forget his closing testimony where he said in beautiful Portuguese, “Como o Irmão de Jared, eu também sei que Jesus Cristo vive.” — (As the Brother of Jared, I, too, know that Jesus Christ lives.) I have never forgotten that testimony. Reading your post electrified me and I wanted you to know there is another confirmation of President Faust’s special witness. Thank you.”