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Brother Ben E. Banks

How Long Halt Ye Between Two Opinions?

Well, my young friends, it’s a pleasure to be with you today. My wife would normally accompany me on these types of occasions, but she got called into jury duty this morning, and she’s mad…not because she’s missing this, but she’s planning on leaving tomorrow with her three daughters to go to Chicago to see Wicked and a few other things, and if she’s in jury duty, I’m afraid some guys going to get a verdict he’s not going to be happy with. 

I’m just tickled to be here. It’s been a long time since I was a student at LDS Business College, but I will tell you that it was an important time for me. This institution provided a pivotal transition for me as I arrived home from my mission and tried to determine what it was I wanted to do with my life. And this institution has come a long way since I was a student at South Temple. I’m grateful that you have a benefactor like the LDS Church, who is willing to put the resources into this institution to really make it a world-class organization in the niche that it is competing in. I’m grateful for the administrators and the teachers in this organization. I would like to pay respects to one that is not here today, but when I was at this school, Dr. Carolyn Smith, who has since become Dr. Carolyn Brown, was an instructor of mine—and she did her best to try to teach me how to write and how to speak. And we’ll see if she accomplished any of those things by the time I’m done today.

I’m grateful to be with you.  The challenge I have laid out for myself today is to treat a subject that I have had to deal with as a mission president, a bishop, a father, a husband, and a brother—and make it relevant for you.
 
The challenge is addressed in a question posed by Elijah. Confronting the people of Ahab, Elijah asked: “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21). Who of us has not found ourselves halting between two opinions, or two opposing points of view? Do you find yourself, during this period of political debate prior to next year’s primaries, halting to consider multiple political platforms? Have you found yourself halting to evaluate your feelings about the conflict in Iraq, as that situation begs for some semblance of good news? Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have multiple options to evaluate as a CEO of a growing business establishment.

Halting while one evaluates the merits of two opinions isn’t a matter of much concern unless one of those opinions happens to be the Lord’s or one of His servants. Then the concern with “halting” is that our progress stops, and gives the adversary space with which to exercise his influence when we are highly vulnerable. The fact that we have halted would indicate that we are in doubt.  Satan loves nothing better than someone who is struggling with doubt.
So let’s examine the issues surrounding this challenge:

1) Our Father in Heaven understands that this halting and the subsequent evaluation of His opinion, which might be in conflict with the world’s point of view, would be an important part of our mortal experience.  After all, it was He who gave us both intellect and agency, the two characteristics necessary to evaluate conflicting points of view.
 
2) This particular period of your life that you have dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge gives you abundant opportunities to “halt between two opinions.”  However, you should understand that, even as you leave this academic institution and perhaps others in your future, the opportunity for halting and evaluating will always be present.
 
3) This is the time for you to examine your beliefs and opinions, but not throw them out.
 
4) As we examine our beliefs and opinions when challenged or invited to do so, it is important that we have a correct benchmark with which to compare the conflicting opinion.  The one benchmark that will always be correct and assist you in your evaluation is the mind and will of God, as revealed by the Holy Ghost, or those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators.
 
5) Learning how to understand and value spiritual benchmarks may be the most valuable skill or gift you will develop.  For example, we have been promised that the Lord will never allow the head of His Church to lead us astray (see D&C: Official Declaration 1). We have been promised that blessings always follow obedience (see D&C 130:21).  Gaining a knowledge and testimony of these and other spiritual benchmarks will be critical as you evaluate and weigh conflicting ideas and concepts.
 
6) The acquisition of spiritual knowledge, which leads to understanding the mind and will of God, does not follow the same process or pattern as the acquisition of secular knowledge. The prophet Jacob taught that man would not understand God’s way, save it should be revealed to him (see Jacob 4:8).
 
7) And finally, it is equally important to know that the Lord expects us to use our intellect in both the acquisition and the processing of spiritual knowledge or revelation. Instructing an early church leader, the Lord told Oliver Cowdery “that you must study it out in your [own] mind” (D&C 9:8) prior to asking for celestial confirmation.

So, when we find ourselves “halting between two opinions,” or dealing with conflicting points of view, and one of them represents God’s opinion or point of view, what do we do, recognizing that our intellect and agency are two of the greatest characteristics that our Father in Heaven has blessed us with?

Well, we can trust in our own intellect exclusively and hope that we make the right decision, or we can follow a process the Lord has outlined for his children to use when we find ourselves grinding to a “halt.” The Lord was kind enough to give us a “heads-up” in Proverbs, when He cautioned us to not lean unto our own understanding, but rather place our trust in Him (see Proverbs 3:5). He was specific in saying that we must trust Him with all of our heart, not a portion of it.  So trusting Him until we are uncomfortable and then backing away won’t work.

With these issues in mind, let’s examine the process the Lord has laid out for us when we find ourselves “halting.”

1) First, we need to understand that we seldom halt over easy things. It was the Children of Israel that asked the prophets to not prophecy right things, but rather “speak unto us smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10). Don’t find yourselves wishing that the Lord’s servants would only ask us to evaluate smooth things. There is nothing smooth or easy about understanding the issues surrounding abortion, same sex attraction or same gender marriage, the reason the priesthood was withheld from a race of people that were so capable and worthy for so long, what comprises a woman’s role in today’s society, or the distribution of prescription birth control medication and contraceptives in our secondary schools. Our challenge is to come to understand, appreciate, and ultimately sustain the Lord’s point of view without halting.
 
2) We must understand that we may not be able to comprehend celestial concepts with our intellect or telestial tools alone. The apostle Paul taught us that the things of God are foolishness unto man, unless they are spiritually discerned (see 1 Corinthians 2:11, 14). We must recognize that the Spirit has the ability to enlighten our minds. When Oliver Cowdery desired to translate the Gold Plates, he was turned down. One of the reasons the Lord gave him for his refusal was that Oliver had not spent the requisite amount of time contemplating the consequences of what he was asking for. Paraphrasing, the Lord told him, “You have not understood…you took no thought save it was to ask me…You must study it out in your [own] mind; then you must ask me if it be right” (D&C 9:7-8). I think with a little “study time,” Oliver would have come to the conclusion that multiple translators might have compromised the translation.  If he needed any evidence of this, he only need spend a few minutes in the Bible.
 
3) Just as an understanding of academic concepts requires academic preparation, understanding celestial concepts requires spiritual preparation. Ammon taught us that faith, repentance, good works, and prayer—all without ceasing—would qualify us to know the mysteries (or mind) of God (see Alma 26:21-22). Just wanting to know or understand is not enough. The Lord wants us to demonstrate that sincerity by the quality and quantity of our preparation. An example of this principle can be found in reviewing the process that the brother of Jared went through to get his barges illuminated before departing for the Promised Land. Briefly, after multiple attempts by the brother of Jared requesting that the Lord light their barges, the Lord tried to teach him the principle and the importance of preparing before making a request. He asked the brother of Jared, “What will ye that I should do that ye [might] have light in your [barges]?” After reviewing or outlining the limitations that confronted them, the Lord encouraged the brother of Jared to come up with his own solution and return for confirmation. While the Lord loves us, He is absolutely committed to our development and will not allow us to slide by with inadequate preparation (see Ether 2:16-25).
 
4) Spiritual preparation that produces understanding requires the application of faith and a willingness to submit to his will (see Alma 32 and Mosiah 3:19). You will not appreciate this part of the process until the principle you are trying to understand is causing significant concern for you or pain for someone that you care deeply about. Then you will begin to understand and perceive that only through the exercise of your faith and your willingness to submit can your Father in Heaven certify that your spiritual preparation is sufficient for understanding.
 
5) We must serve as a requirement to understand His point of view. King Benjamin taught us that we cannot know the master whom we have not served. Paraphrasing King Benjamin, I would add that we cannot know the will, the mind, the intent, the love, or the compassion of a man we have not served (see Mosiah 5:13). The Savior was very clear when he taught us that if we will do His will, we will know (see John 7:17). With the application of faith, as evidenced by our willingness to submit and serve, there is only one thing missing for understanding—the final step—that is.
 
6) What is your intent should the sought-after understanding come? When Moroni extended his much-repeated promise on how one might come to know the truth of the Book of Mormon, it was in part based on the intent of the one seeking the testimony (see Moroni 10:4). If your intent is honorable, if your intent is to act on the knowledge given to you in a way that honors your Father in Heaven, then you should expect the sought-after answer. If, however, your intent is self-interested and without commitment, then this process won’t work for you. This explains why everyone who tests the promise does not receive the witness. You see, intent goes to the nature and desire of our heart, where real understanding and commitment reside. Both King Benjamin and the prophet Abinadi taught us that it is the heart where understanding takes place (see Mosiah 2:9; 12:27).

Let me share with you a recent personal experience that illustrates the challenge of not halting when presented with what seemed to be an overwhelming conflict.

A little over four years ago, I was called to preside over the England London Mission.  The call came to me and Sister Banks, but also to our 13-year-old son, B.J., as well. While he was not set apart or given keys to preside, it was to be his experience as much as ours.

Surely the Lord was aware of B.J. when the call to preside over the England London Mission came. Specifically, He must have been aware of B.J. when the assignment to London was decided. After arriving in London and enrolling B.J. in school, it became clear that it would be very difficult for B.J. to succeed in his new academic environment. In addition to other significant and vexing challenges, there was a teacher who became aware of who B.J.’s dad was and who he represented. It didn’t take long for the focus on B.J.’s religion and its usual misrepresentations to start, and the feelings of isolation for a 13-year-old boy to begin.

While our living quarters were comfortable and located in a remarkable city full of history and culture, there was an absence of friends or associates B.J. might develop a friendship with. Loneliness was added to the emotion of isolation.

In short, we had all the circumstances for the perfect storm in terms of a lonely, isolate, desperate young man. He desperately wanted to be home with his sisters and friends. At the same time he wanted to be supportive of his dad. He couldn’t understand why, if the Lord loved him, He had sent us to a place that was big, seemingly inhospitable to Americans, to a school that presented significant challenges, and had him feeling very isolated and lonely—all of which were contributing to feelings of anxiety and depression that he had never experienced before.

I frankly didn’t have any easy or smooth answers for him. Assuring him of my love, I told him that he was more important than the missionaries I had been sent to serve, or the call I had received. If he felt he couldn’t go on then we would go home. His reply was that he didn’t want to be the reason that the missionaries would have to deal with a new president and the disruption that might cause. Neither did he want to be the reason I didn’t fulfill the calling that I had been entrusted with.

Clearly, this was a young man in trouble. His pain was spiritual, emotional, mental, as well as physical. I was beginning to understand why the Savior had to experience all that we would experience so He would know how to succor us in our time of need. However, it seemed that our collective petitions to Heaven were going unheeded.

Was it time to halt? Why would the Lord send my boy to a place that He knew would be so full of struggle? Why not send us to an emotionally safe place in America, where there would be friends and a familiar school system? Why didn’t he send us to a place where the sun would shine occasionally?

It was time for President Banks to examine the spiritual benchmarks that had served him so well for the previous 49 years. I knew that my Father in Heaven loved me, and He loved my son. I knew that obedience always brought promised blessings, including perspective and understanding. I also knew that we didn’t determine the methods of delivery or the timing of those blessings.

As I continued to submit my petitions heavenward in my son’s behalf, the Lord, with the assistance of a modern-day Apostle, taught me a powerful principle—that when we accept callings, as the one I was performing, everyone involved lays something on the altar—and my son was no exception. I hadn’t realized in accepting the call that part of the sacrifice would be in part some measure of the peace, happiness and well-being of my own son.

Now that I had reviewed and reconfirmed the benchmarks, I went to work on my own spiritual preparation so I might understand why this discomfort and pain was necessary. I began to submit more willingly, that I might understand and in fact change my nature and heart, knowing if my heart wasn’t right I would never be blessed with the understanding I would need to help my son.

I continued to serve with all my ability, knowing that serving was one of the requirements for understanding the will, the mind, the intent, and the love of God. Finally, I had to ask myself, “What is my intent? Is it to ease my pain? Is it to assist my son with his pain, or to ease the conflict I am experiencing, all without making any permanent change in my celestial perspective?”

Well, we made it through the three-year odyssey, learning as we went along. It was never easy, but there were moments of joy, periods of growth, and time of much reflection. However, the answer I was searching for—why London and all its challenges for my son—did not get answered until we returned home. The answer came about six months after our return. It came in a stake priesthood meeting at which B.J. and I had been asked to speak. As I sat and pondered our experience while my son spoke, the answer to my heartfelt prayer came. As I listened to his understanding and perspective of the gospel, I knew why we had been sent to London. That kind of understanding in a 16-year-old boy would not have come in a place that did not provide considerable challenge.
 
Had I halted, I—as well as the rest of my family—would have missed the most remarkable and influential experience of our lives.

My young friends, the Church that sponsors this institution is full of bright people who have spent a lifetime gathering knowledge and wisdom, only to forget to ask for understanding and therefore halting while they evaluate and ultimately find themselves in conflict with God or His servants (see Proverbs 4:7).
 
We can avoid halting and subsequently stopping our progress when confronted with opinions, principles and practices that cause us to feel conflicted with things we have been taught by the Lord’s servants, if we will learn to apply this process in our search for understanding. There is no reason to halt while we evaluate whatever conflict we are struggling with. Obedience always enlarges our understanding.

We can be confident in our ability to venture into any appropriate environment—be it academic, social, emotional or professional—and come out whole, if we remember to exercise our faith, petition the Lord in prayer, continue in good works, serve God, and make sure our intent is honest and genuine.
 
Peace and confidence will be the natural consequence of using the right process in the evaluation of conflicting opinions and working through our mortal struggles. When we have made the right choice, He has promised us that we will “feel…right” (D&C 9:8).

I want to leave you with my testimony that my life experience has taught me that if we will utilize this process, as long as it takes, that we will feel right—not only going through the challenge, but after the challenge has passed. I leave my witness with you that our Father in Heaven and His Son are aware of the very details of our lives, and if we will trust them, we will find ourselves making correct choices that will lead to opportunities we would never have had otherwise. I leave my testimony with you that the organization that sponsors this school, and that many of you belong to—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—is the Kingdom of God on earth, and in that kingdom you will find everything that you need to return to your Father in Heaven. I leave my witness with you that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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