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Tad Callister, general president of the Sunday School for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, remembers the first time he read the Book of Mormon cover to cover.

It was while reading the story of the 2,000 sons of Helaman -- in which young men of "great faith" entered a battle without fear and emerged without a single casualty -- that Callister said he experienced something sacred.

"When I read that story as a young man ... a voice came into my mind," Callister said. "Not an audible voice, but just the impression of a voice: 'That story is true.' And for a 16-year-old boy, that was a witness to me of the spirit, that this book has contents that were of divine origin."

The Book of Mormon -- a sacred text of the church -- is what Callister will talk about when he gives the keynote address at the public devotional "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ," at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock.

Adherents of the faith believe the Book of Mormon to be a translation of Scripture, as written on sacred gold plates that church founder Joseph Smith unearthed in New York early in the 19th century. First published in 1830, the focal event described in the text is that of Christ's appearance to people in the Western Hemisphere after his resurrection, according to the church's Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Callister described the text last year at the church's annual General Conference in Salt Lake City as one in which truth outweighs the weight of any criticisms it has received -- the latter of which he said are not new.

"There will always be critics of the truth," Callister said. "Look at the critics of the savior -- they even put him to death. Look at the critics of the Twelve Apostles, all of whom we believe met a martyr's death. There will always be critics and attacks against the truth.

"That's natural human nature, unfortunately, that many people will attack that which is true because it's not in accord with their ideology or way of belief they want to adopt."

In addition to the Book of Mormon, there are three other sacred texts that form what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls the four standard works. In addition to the Bible, there is also the Doctrine and Covenants, "a series of modern-day revelations [made] mainly to the Prophet Joseph Smith." The Pearl of Great Price, the fourth standard work, is a combination of translations and revelations, the latter of which, according to Callister, did not end with the Bible.

"If God still has the power to speak to me, and he still loves us and we need him, why wouldn't he still speak to a living prophet today?" Callister said.

Callister said that since being called to head Sunday School for the church at its headquarters at Salt Lake City in 2014, the Book of Mormon has clarified a number of doctrinal "truths that were lost in the Bible," and drew a parallel between the two texts and a drawing to illustrate the linear nature of that clarification.

"If you have one dot, how many straight lines can you draw through it?" Callister said. "You could draw an infinite number [of lines]. And the Bible is like that dot. ... You have hundreds, maybe thousands [of lines], and that's why you have thousands of different Christian churches. ... Now if you have a second dot over to the right, how many straight lines should you draw? Only one.

"And that's one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon, [along] with the Bible, to give us one line, one interpretation of the Bible that's clear and nonconfusing. I think I've learned that more than I've ever learned before."

As general president of the Sunday School, Callister regularly travels for monthly teacher council meetings in which instructors of a ward, or congregation, gather to discuss principles of its teaching the four standard works, and how to improve their methods. With his wife, Kathryn, whom Callister said helps with much of the training, Callister also will lead a teacher council meeting, among other activities during his visit to Little Rock.

At its best, the Book of Mormon gives hope and direction to people, Callister said, and he hopes at the devotional to give others a "true understanding" of the book and its purpose, and that people will read it for themselves.

"I think we're just hoping that people give us a chance, just to hear our message and take a fair opportunity to ask tough questions," Callister said. "I think we'll have answers for a lot of them, and some of them we just have to say we may not know, but I do think there's a lot of answers.

"I think the Book of Mormon, [along] with the spirit is the greatest witness we have of what we would call the truth of this church ... the evidences of it in terms of archaeology, linguistics, the divine eloquence of language, the doctrine that's taught, its witness of Christ, and most of all the spirit that it radiates -- that we hope will confirm to one that it truly is a word of God."

Tad Callister, General President of the Sunday School for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. C

Religion on 09/15/2018

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