Recently a large group of Latter-day Saints battled an unexpected spring snowstorm to hear three respected voices address modern-day challenges, questions, and topics.
I was one of those Latter-day Saints making my way through the snow, and I have to say that Deseret Book’s first “Questions Worth Exploring” event was not at all what I was expecting.
Laurel Christensen Day was the emcee and began the event by drawing comparisons to the old CES speaker series “Know Your Religion.” Her connections instantly sent my head and heart in a new direction as to the purpose of the “Questions Worth Exploring” speaker series. Allow me to explain.
Back in its heyday, for over 30 years “Know Your Religion” was the largest branch of the Church’s Continuing Education Program. According to a BYU Daily Universe article, in 1998 there were more than 106,000 enrollments in the “Know Your Religion” programs across the United States and Canada, and “the program [was] intended ‘to help Church members to strengthen testimonies; study the scriptures and the words of living prophets; emphasize the saving ordinances of the gospel; encourage temple marriage, stable home life, and eternal family relationships; promote Church and community service; and foster the development of self-respect, creativity, and problem-solving ability.’”
By comparison, the new speaker series “Questions Worth Exploring” explores important gospel questions with some of the Latter-day Saint community’s most trusted and thoughtful voices. So what was Laurel’s point in connecting the two events? I believe she was showing that as a Church we’ve come to see that truly knowing our religion is based on asking questions, not just absorbing information. Today our faith is centered much more around questions: personal questions, personal answers, and personal revelation.
An oft-quoted line from President Nelson’s April 2018 general conference talk—his first conference as Church president and prophet—reads, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” And the next paragraph gives great insight into specifically how to have that vital constant influence:
“My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. … Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly.”
So many of our more recent Church programs—Come, Follow Me, ministering, and the Children and Youth program, to name a few—are based around the counsel that we are to seek personal answers and inspiration on how to learn, what to teach, what to study, how to serve, and how to grow. I believe these new programs are intentionally structured in a way that some might perceive as vague in an effort to help us do the spiritual work President Nelson is pleading with us to do.
And it’s only natural that as we ask questions, we may encounter uncomfortable answers. Or that a potentially difficult question could lead us down an unintended path of fear or anxiety or shame. But that is where I believe a speaker series all about questions led by those with expertise in a variety of fields could be vital.
For example, at the inaugural “Questions Worth Exploring” event, we heard messages from nineteenth-century women’s history specialist and author Jenny Reeder; professor, theologian, thought leader, and author Terryl Givens; and singer, songwriter, filmmaker, development coach, author, and all-around creative Mauli Bonner. Reeder spoke to the question “What can the women of the early Restoration teach us today?” Givens answered, “Should I be worried? Faith in a time of high anxiety,” and Bonner shared his thoughts around the question “How can I reconcile topics in Church history that are difficult for me?”
At the end of the night, all three speakers were invited back on stage for a Q&A that ended with the question: What is your anchor belief?
I personally hadn’t ever heard that term, but I was able to infer its meaning from the context and previous discussion: What is your end-all-be-all gospel belief? What is the one piece of your testimony that will never be taken from you?
Each panelist’s answer also gave me a look into who they are and what they hold dearest.
To summarize, Jenny Reeder’s anchor belief was “I know I have heavenly parents who love me.” Mauli Bonner’s was “Even when life gets crazy, He is still and always will be Christ.” And Terryl Givens’ was “Whether or not God exists is not the question. The question is whether the God who exists is worthy of our adoration.”
After hearing their messages, it was clear that each speaker had come to the very core of their testimonies after asking many questions—easy questions, hard questions, thought-provoking questions, and questions that were never answered. I found this to be a great topic to end the event on because it forced me to think about my own faith. What was my anchor belief? Why is it so important to me? And what events in my life have made this belief my anchor?
I’ve given those questions much much thought, and I’m here to report back. My own anchor belief can be summed up in 1 Nephi 11:17: “I know that He loveth His children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” It has long been a favorite scripture of mine, and ironically enough, I think it also pairs well with the theme of questions in this new speaker series. It also has correlations to all three speakers’ anchor beliefs, too.
The speakers shared many of their own personal stories that weren’t exactly wrapped up in a neat bow. But they were real, personal experiences of faith, times they have seen God in their lives, and intimate moments of personal revelation. Each speaker encouraged audience members to look for personal revelation as they ask their questions.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that asking questions is vital for our spiritual survival, and asking those questions can lead to deeper faith and a stronger relationship with God. But that doesn’t mean we will get to know all the answers all the time. I believe that sometimes when those answers don’t come, knowing we have heavenly parents, knowing that Jesus Christ is always our Savior, and recognizing the unparalleled generosity of God can be enough.
If you want to join us in asking questions and deepening your faith, mark your calendars now for the next “Questions Worth Exploring” event on April 21. Tickets are available at deseretbookpresents/speaker-series.