Skip to main content

A House of Learning, A House of Light

"Our Personal Temples" and "A House of Learning, A House of Light"


Thank you Susan. That was a beautiful message! May we always remember that our bodies are temples. What a difference this would make on campus! Why, it would almost put Campus Security, the Office of Honor, and Title IX out of business.

Our devotional today is intentionally temple-themed in honor of the centennial anniversary of our beloved temple, which was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1919. The musical pieces today were performed at the temple dedication one hundred years ago. Susan addressed a temple principle that her grandmother taught at the dedication—to be clean. I, too, will speak on a temple theme.

I have chosen to talk about the connection between school and temple. I have called my remarks “A House of Learning, A House of Light.”

Schools and temples are profoundly interlinked in our history and doctrine, just as they are stylistically in these lovely watercolors.

At times, schools were held in temples, as was the School of the Prophets. In D&C 88, a revelation that President Oaks called “the basic constitution of Church education,” it is hard to tell when the Lord is referring to the Kirtland temple and when to the School of the Prophets. What the Lord says here about learning applies to both temple and school, as I shall explain more fully later.

So schools and temples are linked historically and doctrinally. For us here in Laie they are also linked experientially. We live in the shadow of a temple. Many of us work and worship there regularly. Our temple is part of the BYU–Hawaii experience, and we are a far better school because of it.

The Hawaiian temple has been part of our institutional identity from before the college even existed.

Note how the temple hovers over the flag-raising ceremony in the mosaic depicting the day David O. McKay first envisioned a Church college here. This is historically accurate. The flag pole was located just down the hill from the temple.

I am persuaded that President McKay later insisted that the college be located in Laie in no small part so that it would be next to the temple. He regarded college and temple as complementary elements of the gathering here in Laie, where members of the international Church could be both educated and endowed.

It is not surprising then that when President McKay dedicated the campus, he blessed “the college, and the temple, and the town of Laie” to “become a missionary factor . . . influencing . . . millions of people.”

Please note, however, that this famous prophecy is preceded by and predicated upon our dedication: “We dedicate our action . . . unto thee and unto Thy glory.” As we are dedicated to God’s glory, like the temple, we enable the college to fulfill this prophecy. As we become temples of light, as Susan taught us today, the college will become a house of light, like the temple.

This is what President McKay specifically enjoined at our founding. At the groundbreaking he said that the beauty of the temple should be reflected in the moral beauty of the people here. And when he dedicated the campus, he prayed: “May there radiate from these buildings an aura of light as tangible as personality radiates from each individual, influencing all to live clean and upright lives.”

I felt the importance of the university’s proximity to the temple from the moment I set foot in Laie. The phrase “a house of learning, a house of light” came to me early in the morning of my first full day here when I stood on the roundabout at the intersection of Kulanui Street and Hale La’a Boulevard. I knew that these roads had been laid out at the founding of the Church College specifically to connect the temple and school spatially. That morning as I looked back toward the McKay Building and up toward the temple, I felt a Heaven-sent prompting that BYU–Hawaii must remain connected spiritually to the temple. It, too, must be a house of learning and a house of light.

So when I was invited to choose a design for my presidential medallion, I knew immediately what should be engraved on it:


These words lay on my breast at my inauguration and at every graduation since. I hope they describe the vision of BYU–Hawaii in your heart as well. For this university can fulfill its mission only to the degree that it remains worthy of its proximity to the temple.

And this depends on us! It depends on each of us being temple worthy, covenant-keeping disciples: obedient, gospel-grounded, chaste, and consecrated.

Knowing this, you can imagine my distress when I occasionally receive reports about student misbehavior, as I did on Sunday night from a respected neighbor who lives across the street from campus. He wrote in an email:

In all my years I have never seen such disrespect for the honor code by BYUH students as I have this semester. Girls walking through town in bikinis has become common place but tonight, on the Sabbath Day, we had to deal with the music thumping from a silver SUV on Kulanui Street by the BYUH intersection and a girl in a bikini dancing on the roof while others were running around on the street.

Dancing on the roof!! I can scarcely believe it, but I trust the witness. And I’ve personally witnessed other dubious Sabbath behavior. The Sunday before last, I saw a group of students dressed in swimming suits, carrying fishing spears, walking on campus toward the beach. I wondered what sign they intended to give the Lord to honor his Sabbath.

Brothers and Sisters: I do not presume to dictate rules for Sabbath Day observance for you. But may I remind that sabbaths and temples are spiritually connected. The Sabbath functions for time as the temple does for place. Just as the temple demarcates the holy from the profane in space (in fact, the very word “profane” literally means outside [pro] the shrine or temple [fanus]), so the Sabbath demarcates the sacred from profane in time.

Through temple and sabbath worship, the Lord teaches us the difference between sacred and profane. In the Old Testament, the Lord says that he wants his people to learn to “put difference between the holy and profane” and then rebukes them because they “have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them” (Ezek. 22:26; cf. Ex. 11:7; Lev. 10:10).

Brothers and Sisters: I implore you not to hide your eyes from the sabbath nor profane the Lord among us! No more than you would desecrate or profane the temple! Not here where we live in the shadow of a temple and aspire to be, like it, a house of learning and light.

We inherit this ideal from Joseph Smith himself, who planned to build a university in Nauvoo that he hoped “to make . . . one of the great lights of the world.” The Saints took Joseph’s dream with them across the plains to the Rocky Mountains and eventually here to the isles of the sea, where David O. McKay founded this university to be a light to the world and introduced D&C 88 into its institutional DNA. We are thus very much an extension of the Prophet Joseph’s plans for Nauvoo U and of his educational vision for the School of the Prophets.

I have in my office these statues of Joseph Smith and David O. McKay. They are arranged so that seem to be looking at each other. This reminds me that Joseph passed to President McKay a vision of Church education in Section 88, which President McKay then passed on to us.

And what are the principles in D&C 88 designed to create schools worthy to be called houses of learning and of light? Let me mention four. There are many more.

1. Students must be worthy and clean

To learn by the Spirit, we must live worthy of the Spirit. Hence, the principles in the Honor Code are not incidental add-ons to learning in Church schools. No! Honesty, chastity, modesty, virtue, respect for others: these are enduring requirements for learning in both temple and school.

Both institutions require ecclesiastical endorsements. Having commanded his people to “sanctify yourselves; yea purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean” (D&C 88:74), the Lord stipulated that “ye shall not receive any among you [in the School of the Prophets] save he is clean from the blood of this generation” (D&C 88:138).

Those admitted into the School participated in the sacred ordinance of washing of the feet and donned clean garments.

Here is a picture of a display about the School of the Prophets reminding us that worthiness, cleanliness, purity, and modesty have been prerequisites for Church schools and temples from the beginning.

2. Students must learn by study and by faith

In D&C 88 the Lord emphasizes the need to “seek learning by study and also by faith.” Church schools are no place for slackers. Yes, we love and support you here, but we expect you to work hard and use all your faculties of mind and spirit to learn. The operative word in D&C 88 is “diligence.” We are to learn diligently, to teach diligently, to seek diligently.

Joseph set the example, which has been followed by many other prophets, including David O. McKay and Russell M. Nelson. Joseph was an avid learner. George Q. Cannon said that “No man in his time loved knowledge more than he.” He inspired the Saints “with an extravagant thirst after knowledge.” Church schools and temples invite us to satisfy this thirst by learning in the light.

3. Students should learn everything they can, for all truth belongs to God

In D&C 88, the Lord articulates a vast curriculum for expanding our minds.

The Saints were to “be instructed in theory and in principle”; to learn “Of things in heaven and in the earth and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home and abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations . . . knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” (88:79-80). And if this isn’t enough, the Lord adds that we are to seek learning “out of the best books” (v.118); to “become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and peoples” (D&C 90:15).

Temples and schools attest to the principle that the gospel comprehends all truth.

They prepare prepare people to go out into the world armed with knowledge and power (see David O. McKay, p. 22 and D&C 88:80). And they witness that the “glory of God is intelligence.” David O. McKay said that the purpose of “true education” is not merely economic, but “to awaken in the human heart a sense of the aim and end of human existence on this earth.” One would be hard-pressed to find a better description of the effect of the temple endowment!

4. Students and teachers should teach and love each other

Church schools should be places where we teach, serve, and love each other; places where “all may be edified of all” and where “every [person] may have an equal privilege.” Like our temples!

One of my favorite experiences in the Laie temple is being served and blessed by student temple workers. There is no class distinction: we are all brothers and sisters, bound together in love through our mutual covenants with God, just as were those who entered the School of the Prophets.

There, each student was welcomed by the Prophet with a formal greeted, which reads in part as follows: “I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant . . . in the bonds of love” (88:133).

As we incorporate here these principles, so dear to the Prophet Joseph Smith and President David O. McKay, BYU–Hawaii may rightly take its place beside our temple as a house of learning and of light.

Who's on the Lord side?

Now let me end this devotional where we began. We opened by singing “Who’s On the Lord Side.” I requested this opening hymn today not because it is my favorite hymn. It is not. The tune is a sailor’s jig. But the words sound a clarion call that echoed from the temple 100 years ago and that I echo again to you today.

Following the dedication on Thanksgiving Day, three more dedicatory sessions were held. Then on Sunday morning a special and, to my knowledge, unique meeting was held in the temple for children. About 235 children attended. No dedicatory prayer or hosanna shout was offered. Instead, President Grant led the children in singing “Who’s On the Lord’s Side?” Then he asked the children to raise their hands if they were on the Lord’s side. Every child’s hand was raised.

Imagine this scene. Hundreds of children in the temple, surrounding the prophet, singing “Who’s on the Lord’s Side” and then responding to his invitation with uplifted hands. In the other meetings the temple was dedicated. In this meeting the children dedicated themselves in the temple. They recommitted themselves to be valiant and true as they sang:

Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?

We serve the living God,

And want his foes to know

That, if but few, we’re great;

. . .

Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?

Now is the time to show.

We ask it fearlessly:

Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?

They then raised their hands in the temple, before God and his prophet, signaling their commitment to stay on the Lord’s side.

Brothers and sisters: I don’t ask you to raise your hands publicly, but I ask you to resolve in your souls this day to stay on the Lord’s side. For there is battle raging in the world and it will likely only get worse. It’s time to re-up and re-enlist with the hosts of Heaven. You served in God’s army before this life. Take your place again among his valiant hosts. Who’s on the Lord side? Who? May we each answer: I AM!

Let us stay out of enemy territory and stand in holy places. For as President George Albert Smith declared:

“There is a line of demarcation well defined between the Lord’s

territory and the devil’s territory. If you will stay on the Lord’s side

of the line you will be under his influence and will have no desire

to do wrong; but if you cross to the devil’s side of that line one inch

you are in the tempter’s power and if he is successful, you will not

be able to think or even reason properly because you will have lost

the Spirit of the Lord.”

In the spirit President Grant: I plead with you to stay on the Lord’s side of the line. I ask you not only to live the Honor Code, though I expect this. I ask you to keep your baptismal and temple covenants. Only as we all do so will this university become the house of learning and house of light it is intended to be.