Education Week: Why Christopher Columbus matters

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Clark Hinckley presented on the importance of Christopher Columbus during an Education Week session on Wednesday, August 21. (Hannah Miner)

Clark Hinckley, son of former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and author of “Christopher Columbus: A Man Among the Gentiles,” spoke about the importance of Columbus during an Education Week session on Wednesday, August 21.

Hinckley began his address by sharing a series of experiences he and his family had that related to Columbus. He served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Spain and frequently passed a statue of Columbus. He lived in New York with his wife just a few blocks from Columbus Circle and Columbus Avenue. His oldest daughter studied at Columbia University. He and his wife served a mission in Barcelona and often walked past another Columbus statue. Hinckley said he has often encountered the name “Columbus.”

“Columbus is everywhere, but we don’t always recognize it,” Hinckley said.

Hinckley noted a Book of Mormon scripture in 1 Nephi 13:12 that he said speaks of Columbus.

The verse reads, “And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.”

Hinckley said there have been arguments and disputes over the last few decades on whether or not Columbus really discovered America. One of these main arguments contends that the Vikings crossed the Atlantic Ocean to North America centuries before Columbus.

But Hinckley said these arguments are not necessarily about who discovered it, but rather what the word “discover” actually means. “‘Discover’ simply means to uncover something that was hidden from someone. ‘Discover’ is different from ‘invent,'” he said

“Columbus didn’t invent the new world, he simply revealed its existence to the rest of the world,” Hinckley said.

Though numerous changes have come about because of Columbus’ efforts, the most obvious way Columbus changed the world is that he changed the map, Hinckley said.

Hinckley said some of the other changes attributed to Columbus are best described by the eminent historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, who said these changes continue to impact everyone’s daily life, “from diet to missionary work.”

“The fact that today you can purchase a “Big Mac” in Mexico, Malaysia or Moscow is in part of the legacy of Columbus — a legacy that historians refer to as the Colombian Exchange,” Hinckley said.

Like Fernández-Armesto said, this Colombian globalization has influenced not only food and other aspects of the world but also missionary work.

“Only in the post-1492 world can the Gospel be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. This web of contact has become so profound today that a missionary assigned to Lisbon or Los Angeles or London is likely to meet and teach people from every continent,” Hinckley said. “The fact that the Gospel is being preached to all nations and that there are Latter-day Saint congregations on every continent is in part the legacy of Christopher Columbus.”

Hinckley noted another interesting event that happened in 1492: a new race, the Latinos, began to emerge. Latinos are now the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States and in the Church worldwide. Latin Americans celebrate October 12 — Columbus Day — as the “day on which their new race was born,” Hinckley said.

Hinckley said modern-day people are used to rapid change, but this kind of change wasn’t common in previous eras — until the world began changing at an unprecedented pace in 1492.

“Not only did Columbus open the doors of the ocean sea, but his voice was a decisive factor in unlocking the intellectual and spiritual darkness that encompassed Europe for centuries and was just beginning to fade,” Hinckley said.

Hinckley said that after Columbus’ first voyage in 1492, Martin Luther began just 24 years later to speak out against the reformed church in Rome. Martin Luther would later translate the Bible into German. William Tyndale later began the translation of the Bible into English. In 1534, Henry the VIII separated from the church in Rome to create the Church of England. This reformation became a Protestant revolution and encouraged people to seek other forms of Christianity. This ultimately led to the pilgrims leaving the Church of England in search of new religious practices in America. This decision then led to a pilgrim family relocating to an area known as the Hill Cumorah — the location where the Prophet Joseph Smith would later translate and publish a record known as the Book of Mormon.

“Why did Nephi single out only Christopher Columbus in his abbreviated account of the Restoration?” Hinckley asked. “Perhaps it is because no other single individual did more to prepare the way for the last dispensation than did Christopher Columbus. I believe Columbus matters, because in a very real sense, as Nephi suggests, the Restoration begins with him.”

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