LDS Conference October 1971- Spiritual and Secular Education in the Service of God

This is today’s post for the ongoing General Conference Odyssey project. My previous posts in this series can be found here. Posts by other bloggers writing about the October 1971 General Conference today are linked at the end of this post.  You can also visit the project group on Facebook.

Today we are writing about the Priesthood Session of the October 1971 Conference.

This session of conference included a number of interesting sermons.

It is the first session of conference to include a talk by Dallin H. Oaks, who was at the time the newly called president of Brigham Young University, and would later become a Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and eventually one of the apostles of the church.

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It is not surprising that Elder Oaks spoke about education and the intersection of secular knowledge and spiritual knowledge. He contrasted the famous aphorism suggested by philosopher Thomas Hobbes, that “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” with the teachings of the restored gospel that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”

Elder Oaks emphasized that he was grateful to have been exposed to philosophies of men, like that of Hobbes, but he is also thankful that he was simultaneously being taught the truths of the gospel.

As the new President of BYU, he emphasized that he believed that it is wise to join spiritual and secular instruction:

At Brigham Young University and in the other institutions of the Church Educational System, we are concerned with teaching the fundaments of spiritual and secular knowledge and with bringing those teachings into harmony in the lives of men and women in order to prepare them for a balanced and full life of service to God and fellowman.

One thing that I find interesting here is that this combination of secular and spiritual education has a very specific purpose: to prepare men and women not just to have what Elder Oaks calls a “balanced and full life” but a balanced and full life of service, first to God and then to their fellowmen.

I am not an academic by any means, but I do have many friends and family members who are. Academia can be brutal and sometimes the the “ivory tower” characterization can be uncomfortably accurate. Any career or pursuit has built in spiritual dangers. Businessmen can sacrifice integrity for profits and status. Politicians can pursue power at all costs. Performers can prefer fame over all else. It is easy to get lost in the localized controversies of one’s vocation and lose perspective of the big picture, including, or maybe even more especially, the spiritual perspective. Academia is certainly not immune, and some might say is especially prone to certain spiritual pitfalls, even if they are different from the businessman.

By linking secular and spiritual learning to the specific objective of preparing people to serve God and His children, Elder Oaks provides a remedy to the natural dangers. When learning is undertaken with that objective in mind, it makes the pursuit of knowledge subservient to that greater vision.

Elder Oaks outlines four specific suggestions to accomplish this objective in education:

  1. Strive for excellence: use the talents that the Lord has given you, meet and master the learning of men.
  2. Seek learning, even by study and also by faith: Your faith will sustain you and give added meaning and increased accomplishment to your secular studies if you will live to deserve the blessings of the Lord.
  3. Cherish and nourish your spiritual life: Nourish your spirit just as regularly as you nourish your body or mind. Don’t neglect study of the gospel and activity in the Church during the period of your schooling.
  4. Live so that you can be guided and taught by the Spirit: honor your parents; be true to the teachings of the Church; be clean and faithful in all things; and be loyal to the leaders of the Church

To me, suggestion four is especially interesting. The importance of living worthy of the Spirit to achieving the spiritual purposes of education cannot be overstated. Without the spirit, we cannot avoid the built-in pitfalls.

Elder Oaks ends his short address with this moving testimony:

I am thankful to my Heavenly Father for the testimony I have of the truth of the gospel. I have measured its requirements by reason and found them satisfying. I have put its precepts into practice and felt their good effects in my life. I have seen the gospel work good in the lives of others. I have observed miraculous things. But these signs follow them that believe. I know that the gospel is true because my Father in heaven has answered my prayers and borne witness to me by the power of the Holy Ghost. I am devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am loyal to the chosen servants of the Lord, whom I sustain with all my heart.

Other bloggers writing about the Priesthood Session of the October 1971 Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today:


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