You are here

Mormon Scholars Testify: Thomas E. (Ted) Lyon

TitleMormon Scholars Testify: Thomas E. (Ted) Lyon
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsLyon, Thomas Edgar
Access Date30 March 2018
Last Update DateDecember 2011
PublisherMormon Scholars Testify
KeywordsEducation; Scripture Study; Testimony

Show Full Text

Thomas E. (“Ted”) Lyon

I here write a few words, words from the heart, words from the head, words from my deepest feelings. I will divide these words into two parts – my (1) life, and my (2) testimony.

I was born in 1939 and am the fifth son of T. Edgar and Hermana Forsberg Lyon. My twin brother, Joseph Lynn Lyon, now a well-known medical doctor and researcher at the University of Utah, and I were raised in the rural outskirts southeast of Salt Lake City. My earliest memories of spiritual instruction come not from our home, but from attendance at the old East Mill Creek ward house (now torn down and replaced with a much more modern, utilitarian edifice). The small chapel was begun in 1848, and there I gleaned, from it, as well as from the members, a certain pioneer spirit, a heritage that went back in time, much beyond my own short life. My own lineage also proffered a similar link—my parents taught us that one great-grandfather, a Scottish convert in 1844, was the first Mormon to publish a book of poetry. He (John Lyon) later became a patriarch in Salt Lake City. Another great-grandfather, on my mother’s side, was a skeptical Swede, who immigrated to Utah without yet converting, because he wanted to see what Mormons were really like before he sought baptism. He found positive confirmation to his doubts, and joined the Church in Utah just in time to attend the 1893 dedication of the Salk Lake Temple. He too was called to serve as a patriarch in the early 1900s. My grandfather Lyon, born in 1864, was a prominent printer and businessman and served as bishop for many years in the upscale “Avenues” section of Salt Lake City, and was intimate with many general authorities of the Church, including neighbors and friends Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant. My mother’s father, born in Sweden, served a mission in his native country, and was later called to return there with his family to preside over the mission. His wife, as a young woman, had also chosen to serve a full-time mission, and was among the first sister missionaries of the LDS Church. My father was called to serve a mission in the Netherlands, in 1923, and just ten years later accepted the call to put his education on hold (he was studying for a the Divinity School of the University of Chicago) and serve for four years as mission president in the same country where he had previously preached. I also knew that both he and Mom were “famous”: She served on the Primary General Board of the Church and wrote manuals for the same Primary classes I was in, and Dad taught at the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah. He also wrote manuals for the Church, had spoken in General Conference, and was well-known for his deep knowledge of Church history.

So I knew that I came from “pioneer stock” and basked in the recognition granted to my parents. Yet none of this gave me a conviction of the truth of their beliefs. Like most LDS boys, I had to “find” my own assurance. I attended Church meetings quite faithfully, listened to my teachers, performed my personal prayers, and only occasionally opened the scriptures. Despite the push by Sunday School, seminary, and Aaronic Priesthood teachers, and a firm desire to know if what they and my parents taught and believed was true, the scriptures proved too difficult or too uninteresting for my tastes. However, during the summer of 1955, a fine friend, Clark Tanner, and I took advantage of his father’s generosity in buying a jeep and “outfitting” us to prospect for uranium in the deserts of southern Utah. We took an evening class on prospecting and launched ourselves into the desert, establishing a base camp way beyond any road, on the tamarisk-lined banks of Last Chance Creek (now part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument). Clark liked to sleep during the only cool hours on the summer desert, often until 9:00 a.m. I always awoke when it got light (5:45 or 6:00) so I had many hours by myself. I only had one book—the Book of Mormon, which my mother had surreptitiously placed into my duffel bag. I read and read, and thought and thought, about what I was reading, and occasionally prayed. In two weeks I had completed the entire book. I slipped off my cot in the shade of the bushes, and prayed, telling the Lord that I had (finally) finished this book that my teachers and parents had been talking about for so long. “Lord, I’ve done my part, now give me the testimony.” Nothing. No response, no voice, no feeling. Could this all be true, or was I part of a very big hoax perpetuated by parents and teachers? I felt deceived. I had finally finished the book and expected an immediate confirmation. Nothing. Since I only had one book to read, and plenty of time, I began again, and just six or seven days later, while reading in Alma, chapter 40, I experienced what I had never expected—not a voice nor a vision, but the strongest and surest internal sensation, connecting my mind and my heart, thoughts and feelings, and I understood that “This book was written by ancient prophets in the Americas, not Joseph Smith.” I even looked around through the bushes, trying to see if someone was there who might have uttered that phrase. No one, nothing. Then my mind started racing, thoughts and feelings came so fast that I didn’t even have time to digest them – “Joseph Smith indeed got the plates from an angel, the Book of Mormon came from ancient prophets, your parents have been telling you the truth, David O. McKay is truly a prophet for the Lord, the Church is true, you are on the right path, this is God’s church . . .” and many other rapid-fire, confirming thoughts. They did not come from me, nor did I understand their source. I now know that this was what we call a manifestation of the Spirit, but at the time my young mind was unprepared for the profound spiritual experience. During that event-filled summer I completed the book three times, each time more sure than the previous reading. We found a little uranium, but never became fabulously rich, as our fantasies had imagined. But I found a much richer, more lasting jewel—the beginnings of a firm testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel on earth.

That singular experience has been a foundation of my strength and surety in the gospel. But it is not singular – it has been re-confirmed hundreds of times. And despite these assurances, I still made a few dumb choices, and have often had minor doubts and concerns, but I have not turned from Christ nor His gospel because it is revealed truth.

I completed high school at Olympus High in Salt Lake City, and immediately served six months of active duty in the U.S. Army (and seven and a half years in the Army Reserve), and then attended the University of Utah. Like my father and four brothers, I interrupted my college studies by accepting a mission call, to Argentina (from 1959-1961), where I fell in love with the culture, food, people, and language. Upon returning from Argentina my adorable and long-waiting fiancé, Cheryl Larsen, and I were married in the Salt Lake Temple. She graduated in Elementary Education that year (1962) and taught in the public schools. I graduated from the University of Utah (Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude) with a major in Spanish literature. I received an excellent NDEA fellowship to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where I studied Latin American literature with some of the most eminent professors in the country, graduating with a Ph.D. degree in four years, in 1967. I accepted an offer to teach at the University of Oklahoma that year and the next. This was an era when college jobs were increasing and when I was offered a position at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, we accepted—it was rated as the top graduate school in the country, and I simply wanted to teach at the best university that would accept me.

Cheryl and I had set out a plan to try to return to Utah within ten years of leaving for graduate studies, with the intention of being near our parents, and allowing our children to know their grandparents. We had intended to return to the Language Department at the University of Utah, but instead accepted a fine offer at Brigham Young University (BYU), a school I had not previously considered. We came to Provo, Utah, in the fall off 1972; this has been ‘my’ university since that time. I teach courses in Latin American literature and culture, as well as classes in the Honors Program and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. I have published a few books, numerous articles and reviews, mainly dealing with Latin American literature and history. I have served in too-many administrative positions at BYU and received too-many fleeting teaching and research awards.

My academic career at BYU has been interrupted three times (1996-1999; 2002-2004; 2007-2010, a total of eight years) to accept mission calls from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: to serve as mission president in Osorno, Chile, and as missionary training center president and temple president in Santiago, Chile. These calls have greatly limited and reduced my academic productivity but dramatically increased personal friendships, spiritual progress, human understanding, and love of all things Latin American and Chilean.


No written or spoken testimony is ever complete. Either there is not enough time (as in oral expression during our testimony meetings), or else the written page (here) simply does not capture the sincerity of voice or depth of feeling. When expressing my most intimate feelings I abhor trite expressions that I or others have used to the point of near-memorization. Further, it is difficult to express full testimony because it is a mystical mix of my deepest feelings with sure knowledge, obtained by other-than-rational experience. Despite these difficulties, I shall try to write what I truly feel and know.

I am sure that there is a God who created my spiritual identity, from some pre-existing, eternal form that we call ‘intelligence.’ I know that this God exists in a physical space and that He somehow recognizes me as His offspring, and, in some way that I don’t fully understand, hears my prayers and responds to them in the best possible ways for me. I know He is concerned about me, and desires my happiness. I know that God knows me; my task is to try to know him better. Without understanding the details, I know that “all things are done in the wisdom of Him who knoweth all things.” That scripture, from II Nephi, has been a guiding scripture for my life—there is a God who knows and understands all, and the best thing I can do is accept and submit to His wisdom.

I know that I existed before coming to this earth and that I will exist after this life. I am sure that there is a spirit world and that it is close to us—my parents and grandparents are there now and I am sure that they are trying to bless and help me and all their offspring. I know that when I depart this life I will go to that spirit world and will continue working and serving, in activities similar to what I am doing on the earth now. I will die, but I will live again. I am sure that there is a future resurrection and that my aging body will someday be resurrected and restored to a much more perfect form. I know that my soul (body and spirit) will exist forever, in eternal lives (yes, plural), in ways that I do not even begin to understand now.

I have read and prayed and felt enough to know that Christ was a real being, very much like his Father, and that He created this earth for our chance to work, learn, and try to follow Him. I know that Christ was/is what He said He was—the Son of God. I very much believe what the scriptures teach—He died for all of humankind, somehow taking upon himself the sins and pains of the entire world. And His literal resurrection will give me, and all humankind, the joy of our own resurrection. I am sure that Christ must be a very happy person because He has given so much of Himself in service to others, to us.

I have an unshakable assurance that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, and certainly not written by Joseph Smith (or anyone else in the nineteenth century). I have already detailed my dramatic experience of this personal spiritual knowledge while prospecting on the Utah desert, in 1955; But since that first undeniable experience I have read the Book of Mormon many (thirty, forty, or more) times and my testimony only grows more sure each time I read and study it. This conviction helps me know that Joseph Smith told the truth—he indeed communed with God and Jesus Christ in 1820, and on many subsequent occasions. And he received other celestial visitors who, under Christ’s directions, brought spiritual gifts and powers to earth; we continue to hold those spiritual powers in these days. I have been blessed to receive many of these powers in the various Church callings that have come to us.

And I do know that in these days (the early twenty-first century) we continue to receive divine direction from the heavens. I wholeheartedly sustain the fifteen men who direct the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as modern prophets. I know many of them from personal relationships, and affirm that they are sincere, are accepted by Christ as those chosen to direct His Church. They receive revelation and inspiration from the Lord, in ways that are not miraculous, but quite normal in the Lord’s communication with His children. I have known many of the past prophets and can assuredly testify that they are what we sustain them to be—prophets who represent Jesus Christ. Their desires for us are the same as Christ’s: our happiness now and in the eternal future.

There are still many things I do not know about God, about His Son, about the scriptures, about modern revelation, but I have had sufficient proof and assurance that I cannot deny all that I have stated above. There are so many eternal truths that are much beyond my ability to comprehend at this stage in my eternal life.


Thomas E. (“Ted”) Lyon (Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles) teaches Latin American literature and culture at Brigham Young University. In July 2006, he was named Honorary Consul of Chile in Utah.

Posted December 2011