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Mormon Scholars Testify: Kristine Hansen
|Mormon Scholars Testify: Kristine Hansen
|Year of Publication
|30 March 2018
|Last Update Date
|Mormon Scholars Testify
|Education; Jesus Christ; Scripture Study; Testimony
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To testify of something means to give evidence or proof for what one asserts is true. I am grateful that I can testify of these truths: Joseph Smith was called of God to do the marvelous work that he did in translating and publishing the Book of Mormon and other revelations; Joseph Smith established the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth for the last time before Jesus Christ returns in glory; Jesus Christ is a real personage, whose love and grace allow us not only to be forgiven of sins but to be transformed and eventually perfected by his great power and mercy; Jesus Christ is the literal Son of an Eternal Father, who is likewise the father of the spirit in every human being. The evidence or proof I have to support the truth of my testimony is not really transferable to others—I can only tell you how and why I know these things and promise you that the testimony I have can also be had by anyone who desires to know and who will earnestly seek to have God give them, through the Holy Ghost, manifestations of these truths. Everyone will have different experiences, but the result will be the same: Everyone can know in their minds and in their hearts more surely than they know anything else that these things are true.
Like many others whose testimonies appear on this site, I was born and raised in a large and loving Latter-day Saint family. I have eight siblings, 20 aunts and uncles (plus nearly 20 more when I count their spouses), and over 70 first cousins with whom I made many wonderful memories growing up. Many of my ancestral lines go back to the time of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith. Sometimes I believe it was taken for granted in my family that we would all just gain a testimony simply because we were baptized and the older generation took us to church on Sunday. I felt valued and loved in the ward I grew up in, so I enjoyed going to church, and the lessons and sermons I heard there had a strong impact on me when I was a girl. We had copies of the scriptures in our home, and we read and used them when we wanted to, but I don’t recall the same emphasis on reading scriptures that young people, even children, experience now. In fact, I didn’t even own copies of the scriptures that were solely mine until I was in my late teens.
I attended a seminary class for an hour a day while I was in secondary school in Delta, Utah, but I was an indifferent student of the Book of Mormon at age 15, the year we studied that book. I tried a couple of times to read it on my own but bogged down and never finished it. At age 17, when I studied LDS Church history, however, I began to realize what a remarkable man Joseph Smith was and felt to marvel at all he accomplished in his short life. But I began my freshman year at Brigham Young University without really knowing much about what was in the Book of Mormon. In the two religion classes I took that year, I again struggled to read, understand, and appreciate it. I can’t really say that I had a testimony of it.
After my freshman year, I went with a close friend to Washington, D.C. to work during the summer of 1970. We had secretarial jobs in federal agencies; mine was in the Office for Civil Rights, and hers was in another building some distance away. I was extremely homesick and thoroughly unimpressed with the inefficiencies of the bureaucratic workplace. I couldn’t wait for the summer to end. I had a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, both compilations of revelations that Joseph Smith received after translating the Book of Mormon, and I began taking this book to work with me, since we arrived in the city about 45 minutes before we were expected to start work. I would find a quiet place and read for 30 minutes or more every morning. I felt a great spirit of peace and comfort while reading, but even more I felt a fire growing in me, suggesting that the words I was reading were true. I came to realize that Joseph Smith could not have written these words on his own, that they were revealed to him by heavenly messengers and by Jesus Christ himself. I began to pray more earnestly and to value the refreshing Sunday worship at the Washington Ward after a long week of working in what seemed a spiritual desert.
After that summer, I returned to BYU with a growing desire to understand more about the revealed word of God. I took courses in the Doctrine and Covenants and in the Old and New Testaments, but I still could not say I had a good understanding of the Book of Mormon. I read parts of it again, and I began to gain a testimony of the reality of Jesus Christ when certain verses I read in the Book of Mormon pierced my soul. I took the opportunity to really humble myself and truly repent of past sins. I felt the love of my Savior and the promised cleansing power of forgiveness made possible by his atoning sacrifice. After I graduated with a BA in English, I received a patriarchal blessing in which it was made clear to me that I should serve a mission. I soon received a call to serve in Hamburg, Germany. I embarked on my mission with a testimony of many truths related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but still with little to testify about the Book of Mormon.
Just a couple of weeks after arriving in Germany, I became very ill and weak, so I had to stay home for several days. Lying in bed all day, I alternated between coughing, sleeping, and reading the Book of Mormon with a new interest and passion. After four or five days, I was nearing the end of the book, reading the words of Mormon and Moroni, when I was overwhelmed with a beautiful, peaceful feeling that warmed me from head to toe and brought tears to my eyes. I reveled in the feeling, which lasted for several minutes, and I knew that I was receiving a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the book. The next day, my companion and I finally called the elders to come and give me a blessing of healing, even though I was already on the mend. A young elder who had been in the mission only a few weeks longer than I placed his hands on my head and told me that God had allowed me to become sick for a purpose and that I should learn what that purpose was and be glad for it. When he finished, he marveled at what he had been prompted to say, but I was not surprised, for I knew the reason.
Though I didn’t find very many Germans receptive to the message I brought them, there were some who were, and it was worth every minute of knocking on doors and the often dispiriting rejection to see those few come into the church. The daily efforts I made to share my testimony with others refined my faith and commitment, and my mission was a great experience for me personally. I came home from it with a solid testimony of the truths I have tried to explain here and with a desire to be faithful in serving the Lord in his church. Of course, I have had some ups and downs in the 35 years since returning home, but I have never felt to deny or toss aside any of the truths I have come to know. My testimony grows more precious with the years, and I have a desire to serve another mission when I retire because I still want to share what I know with others. I am grateful that I can share my testimony with all of you who read this on the Internet.
Now as I re-read the Book of Mormon and as I read scholarly writings about it, I feel even more deeply that it is an authentic record of an ancient people and especially that it is a powerful witness for the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ. With many others, I believe the only possible explanation for the book is the one that Joseph Smith gave. I believe strongly that no intellectually honest person can or should dismiss the Book of Mormon as a fraud or a fiction without first giving it proper scrutiny and making a sincere effort to ask God in the name of Christ whether it is true. I testify that anyone who will follow this course of action will receive a witness from the Holy Ghost.
For me, from the fact that the Book of Mormon is true, it follows logically that the rest of what God revealed and established through Joseph Smith is true. But I know this much more from experience than from deduction. To be a member of the restored church of Jesus Christ has been a precious and rewarding thing in my life, worth every sacrifice of time, means, and effort that membership in the church requires. It satisfies my soul to be part of a community that is striving to be righteous and to do good; membership in the church satisfies my desire to give meaningful service. I see the fruits of Gospel living in the lives of those I associate with and in my own life, and these fruits are good.
I also find the teachings of the restored Gospel intellectually satisfying, so profound and extensive in their implications that I know I comprehend only a fraction. We Mormons believe that the Gospel encompasses all truth, and I love this doctrine because the revealed word of God thus gives me a yardstick by which to measure the secular learning I have undertaken and will yet acquire. I value the life of the mind, and I love to learn. I love being a professor and teaching young people things they will need to make their way in this mortal life. But I want most of all for them to know that they have a real and loving Heavenly Father and a real and loving Savior, Jesus Christ, who has a great plan for their eternal life. I feel fortunate to teach at Brigham Young University, where I can speak freely about the intersections of secular knowledge and revealed truths. I frequently teach courses in the history of civilization, in which my students and I deal with enduring questions and issues that have confronted all humans around the world from the beginning. I find that the Gospel explains many things that have puzzled scholars or confused people in all walks of life—and that continue to do so.
One of the books that made a great impression on me as a young woman was Truman G. Madsen’s Eternal Man. In this brief book, Madsen, a philosopher by training, showed how the revelations that Joseph Smith received—particularly the understanding that man is co-eternal with God—resolve many thorny philosophical questions related to the creation of the natural world, identity, free will, mind-body duality, and the origin of evil and suffering. It has been incredibly liberating and motivating to me to understand that a part of me and of every other person is not only an eternal and an independently existent self but also to understand that I and everyone else have agency to choose between good and evil. I am responsible—we all are responsible—to use this divine endowment of agency to choose wisely. I feel it is incumbent upon me and everyone else “to be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them wherein they are agents unto themselves” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28). The revelations that God has given his children from the time of Adam to the present day teach us how to use this divine trait of agency to follow a course that will lead us, over time and through both difficulties and joys, to ever widening spheres of light and truth.
I know of nothing that submits better and more reliably to an empirical test of its reality and veracity than the word of God. If people will exercise their agency to act upon the commandments and instructions given in holy writ, if they will pray, if they will emulate Jesus Christ in their dealings with others, they will come to know for themselves that these revealed words are true. Acting in faith to experiment on the word of God is the way to gain a testimony, as the Book of Mormon prophet Alma teaches. The only intellectually honest path once one hears or reads the word of God is to make that experiment in order to see if the promises are true. Why wouldn’t everyone want to do that? They have nothing to lose and the possibility of eternal exaltation to gain.
As I think about my ancestors who decided to test the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the teachings brought to them by missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s evident to me that my forebears had the willingness and faith to make the experiment. And they must have received the witness because they made great sacrifices for the testimonies they had. I have to think that my fifth great-grandfather Joseph Knight, who knew Joseph Smith intimately, must have had a strong conviction of the latter’s prophetic calling and of the Book of Mormon. Why else would he have given up his prosperous and comfortable farm in western New York and followed Joseph Smith first to Kirtland, Ohio, then through the many scenes of persecution that came to the Mormons in Missouri, then to Nauvoo, Illinois? At the age of 73, Father Knight even began an arduous journey westward when the Saints were driven from Nauvoo. He died in Iowa at the age of 74, waiting and willing to go the valleys of Utah for the testimony he had.
Likewise, my great-great grandfather Jens Hansen and his wife Charlotte Sophia left comfortable circumstances in Denmark and made a dangerous voyage across the Atlantic, welcoming a new daughter to their family midway across the sea. When they arrived in Keokuk, Iowa, the two yoke of oxen and the new wagon they had paid for ahead of time were not waiting for them. In their place were a broken-down wagon and only one yoke of oxen. This event caused Charlotte Sophia’s sister and brother-in-law to separate from the Mormons, but my great-great grandparents took the misfortune in stride, crossed the plains, and spent the rest of their lives helping to settle and develop the little town of Manti, Utah, staying true to their testimonies through drought, grasshopper plagues, storms, and floods. The examples of these and my other ancestors indicate to me that they knew and could not deny the powerful truths they learned by being willing to experiment on the word of God. I am grateful to have their witness to strengthen mine.
I testify that what I have written here is true and that all who desire to can know that Jesus Christ lives and is the Savior of all mankind and that Joseph Smith is the prophet through whom Jesus Christ has restored his true and living church to the earth. I testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the fullness of Gospel doctrines as revealed to this day and that it has the restored priesthood power to perform the ordinances of salvation and exaltation. It gives me great joy to share this testimony with all who read this.
Kristine Hansen was born and reared in Delta, Utah, and received BA and MA degrees at Brigham Young University. After earning a PhD at the University of Texas at Austin in 1987, she joined the English Department at BYU, where she has served in several administrative posts, including Coordinator of English Composition, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education with responsibility for university writing programs, and Faculty Director of the University Academic Internship Office. She teaches courses in advanced composition, rhetorical theory and pedagogy, rhetorical style, research methods, and history of civilization. She has published writing textbooks, edited volumes, and numerous articles in her field. She has been honored with both the Karl G. Maeser Excellence in Teaching Award and the Karl G. Maeser Professorship in General Education. She has also been named Humanities Professor of English and delivered the Barker Lecture in the BYU College of Humanities. She loves to travel and has particularly enjoyed several trips to Austria, a six-month study abroad experience in London, and a memorable tour of the Holy Land and Egypt.
Posted May 2010
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