Church history professor invites all to be seekers of truth

BYU church history and doctrine professor Steven C. Harper invited everyone to become a seeker during his devotional address on June 8. (BYU Photo/Joey Garrison)

BYU church history and doctrine professor Steven C. Harper invited everyone to become a seeker during his devotional address on June 8.

A seeker, Harper said, is someone who finds solid source-based evidence including facts, and bases their definition on evidence.

Harper said different narratives abound in this age and some narratives are simple, sacred, salvific, sinister or even seductive. “We must choose what narratives to make ours,” he said.

Quoting a scripture found in D&C 88:118, Harper said the best way to know what is true and trustworthy is to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”

Harper said becoming a seeker is hard intellectual and spiritual work, requiring a long, slow and deliberate process. He said a seeker must learn to identify and interrogate assumptions.

He asked the audience to reflect on the questions he asked. “What are you assuming about the restored gospel? What are you knowing, really knowing? How do you know it?”

Quoting D&C 93:24, he said “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.”

Harper said complexity arises as people grow up. Confronting complexity can cause people to feel dissonance or tension between the ideals of what people thought they knew and the reality they now see. “We choose whether our faith will continue to be childish, grow up with us, or die,” he said.

Harper said when this happens, seekers have to learn to be source critics. Source criticism, he said, is carefully thinking about sources of knowledge and using hard work to critically evaluate sources of knowledge by study and faith.

By trusting the Lord will reveal to the mind and to the heart, Harper said seekers can recognize that rationality and spiritual experience can both be reliable paths to knowledge.

Harper also spoke about biases and the influence they have on people’s thoughts and decisions, especially with seeking truth. “Becoming a seeker didn’t eliminate my biases,” Harper said. “Seeking simply helps me be more metacognitive about my biases.”

Harper encouraged the audience to be aware of the biases everyone has and to educate themselves. Learning all the facts and evaluating various interpretations is important for any seeker, he said.

Harper ended his speech by sharing an experience he had that led him to know that Jospeh Smith is a revelator.

He said that as a BYU student, he had the opportunity to work with Jan Shipps and John “Jack” Welch, both professors who were co-publishing journals that William McLellin, an early convert to the Church had written from 1831-1836.

In the journals, McLellin wrote how he had gained a testimony by researching and examining the Book of Mormon to know if it was true.

Studying and critically reading through sources of knowledge like McLellin’s journals and Joseph Smith’s revelation manuscripts helped Harper to gain that knowledge for himself.

“I’m not asking you to accept what I say on the authority of my seeking, I’m inviting you to do your own,” Harper said. “I have justified confidence in your abilities to seek diligently by studying the best books while exercising faith.”

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