Skip to main content
Devotionals

Zion: Temples of Learning and Temples of Faith

Sister Holland and I are truly thrilled to be with you on this campus today. We had assignment on the other side of the island through yesterday. But we have so look forward to be in here. We are grateful for so many who’ve made their way here to attend. Obviously wonderful group of leaders locally. Some leaders from across the island and especially, all of you. I bring in the love of President Nelson who knows I’m here and sent me, his counselors and the Twelve. Important work is going on in Salt Lake today that I really ought to be in on, but nothing is more important than my being here and I’m grateful that the arrangement was made and we could come and be here on campus. I realize maybe some from the community are in the audience with the students and we love you and thank you and welcome you. I have been visiting this campus one way or another for 45 years. That means I am older than any banyan tree on this island, so don’t run the numbers, don’t try to calculate my actual age—just write o-l-d.

Perhaps you didn’t know it—or perhaps you don’t care to know it—but I was the proud president of BYU–Hawaii for nine years. Did you know that? Let me explain. In the days when I was president in Provo, the Board of Trustees had me serve as the president of this campus as well. President Dallin Oaks had done the same thing before me. That was done simply to make the resources in Provo more readily available to the Laie campus. Campus was not nearly as mature, not nearly as large, not nearly as many students then, and sometimes didn’t get all the resources that it needed and we were readily able to provide that in Provo. So that arrangement was worked out and I didn’t have to check with anybody if I were president of this campus as well as the other. Then we could just do what we needed to do and it was a wonderful relationship. We were absentee landlords in those days, we had “on-site” presidents, the presidents who were really the presidents, who were called to serve here day in and day out, and year in and year out, for the management of the campus.

But in any case, that arrangement served its purpose for really a couple of decades until the growth here enabled the Hawaii campus to be more firmly established financially and have the various other support services Provo had been able to provide. After some 30 years or so, that two-campus relationship was terminated in 2003. So, thanks for letting me reminisce and thanks for letting me back on a campus that I once visited so very frequently and thank you for playing such a crucial role in the Church Educational System. I’m going to talk about why you are crucial in what is a very limited higher educational program in this Church. We could have no better ambassadors leading you in that than you have in John and Susan Tanner. We love them like crazy, we’ve known them forever, we know them better than you know them, and we know that you know and love them. So thank you President and Sister Tanner for your faithful and devoted service and the love that you have for these students and for this faculty, for this staff, for this community. We include in, that as I’m going to talk about, the Temple, we include the Polynesian Cultural Center and Hawaii reserves and all that it means over all these years to be in Laie.

After having a few discussions with President Tanner on the subject of the Laie Hawaii Temple’s centennial year, I want to talk to you about the uniqueness of your experience in this location, on this particular island, where you have two bright focal institutions, and others that have grown up around it particularly the Polynesian Cultural Center, and so much that the community has become over the years because of these two. First there was raw ground; then a little village; then in 1919 a temple of faith, a dedicated house of the Lord. The little mission school, that existed in the village at the time, became in its own way a temple of learning when this university was established years later. I read with interest President and Sister Tanner’s remarkable devotional addresses, delivered last month as your school year began. I endorse everything they said about worthiness, including moral cleanliness in your “houses of learning and houses of light.”[1] My purpose this morning is to continue that focus, with such a rare blessing in the calendar, to focus on both the university and the temple, noting that you are among an elite few, and I mean elite and I mean few, who have the privilege of learning from both institutions, not only in pursuit of your personal goals but also, and perhaps even more significantly, in the prophetic goal of establishing Zion.

You see, when the Prophet Joseph drew the plans for the City of Zion, an ideal, pre-planned community to be Nauvoo, Illinois—these are plans and papers and drawings that we can still which we can still hold in our hands and I have, and they are still in the church historians office and they’ll remain there, and we can examine with a city planner’s eye—what he conceived of that city to be. It was, to make a longer story shorter, it was to be anchored by two great central institutions, it was to have two symbolic structures. It was to have a temple and a university—a house of faith and a house of learning—both dedicated to the exalting of the human soul.[2] As we know, tragedy overtook the prophet before this dream could be fully realized in Nauvoo. On June 27, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum lay dead on the grounds of Carthage Jail, but the temple in nearby Nauvoo was only then up to the square in its construction, with the university of Nauvoo really not much more than a dream in the prophet’s heart.[3] Completion of the temple and an actual university in Nauvoo would have to wait for future months and finally future years, but that dream went west when the Saints went west, and in a few locations that marvelous concept of a house of learning and a house of faith joined together that could still exists. With this institution increasing in size and stature every passing year, BYU–Hawaii and its host environment here in the islands of the sea, take their rightful place as only one of four Latter-day Saints’ educational experiments that still stand as an attempt to create a very special, and theoretically complete, kind of Zion. This is one of only four opportunities to show how the whole soul is edified when a temple and a university blend together to bless a very fortunate student community. In short, you BYU–Hawaii students have a chance to continue the quest that the Prophet Joseph had in his heart when that heart stopped beating.

But as exciting as that sounds—and it is truly an exciting concept to me—I want you to know how difficult it will be to really truly succeed, that it is a harder undertaking than you think it is. The wagon trails of Church history are marked by the educational jetsam and flotsam of the strenuous efforts made by those who have gone before you and who did so much to give us our chance, in this case, in Laie today. To make the point, let me trace just a little of that trail that marked our early temples and academics.

The divine commandment that led to the building of the first temple in this dispensation was given in January of 1831. A time when the struggling young Church, less than one year into the development, was beset by poverty and turmoil on all sides. The Church, then centered in Kirtland, Ohio, consisted of only a few hundred members, and all of them labored toward the building and realization of this first temple.

Ground was broken finally on May 5, 1833, one writer saying that during the temple’s construction every man, woman, and child gave “brain, bone, and sinew, . . . all living as abstemiously as possible so that every cent could be appropriated to that grand purpose they had undertaken.”[4]

Indeed the construction of the Kirtland Temple was complicated dramatically, on all sides, not the least of which was by the call to Missouri of those who constituted what we now know as Zion’s Camp, right in the middle of the construction of that temple with problems of their own, this call to Missouri took virtually every able-bodied man on a walking journey of 1,000 miles and left for all intents and purposes the truly older men, most of the women of Kirtland, and the children, you add to that the infirm, and that’s the group that were to carry on and establish that temple.

Of course, in addition to the troubles in Missouri were the threats and harassment by enemies of the Church in and around Kirtland itself. “Elder George A. Smith recalled that sometimes guards attended the temple day and night, working with a trowel in one hand and a gun in the other.”[5] Sidney Rigdon, then of the First Presidency, recorded walking the walls of the temple “by night and day, frequently wetting the walls with his tears praying for the completion of the temple.”[6] Heber C. Kimball recorded, “Our women engaged in knitting and spinning, in order to clothe those [men] who were laboring at the building; and the Lord only knows the scenes of poverty, tribulation, and distress which we passed through to accomplish it.”[7]

To give the exterior a glaze, a sparkling appearance, the women contributed their meager treasures of china and crystal, watched them be broken into bits and applied to the plaster that went on those walls. Their tears frequently glistened in the sunlight right along with that beautiful new surface.[8]

In his dedicatory prayer, the Prophet Joseph said to the Lord:

“For thou knowest that we have done this work through great tribulation; and out of our poverty we have given of our substance to build a house to thy name, that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people.”[9]

But just over a year’s time, the temple had been abandoned already, falling into the hands of apostates and excommunicants still in Ohio, with even more severe troubles facing the members in Missouri.[10] The faithful efforts of the Saints to establish Zion in these two early settlements seemed to have been totally in vain.

So, to some it may have been surprising that not long after those difficulties, including his own incarceration in Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph announced a new quest for Zion in Nauvoo, including the building of a temple and the plans for a university thereafter. But this temple would cost a million dollars and take five years to complete, in those dollars of that day. Indeed, by the 27th of June, 1844, with only one story of the temple completed, Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, would be dead at the hands of a Carthage mob.[11]

Even as the Saints mourned the death of their prophet leader, and you know something of the confusion and anguish that went in to the loss of the only leader they had ever known, they nevertheless labored to finish the temple that he loved, which like its predecessor in Ohio and two dedicated sites in Missouri was also doomed to desertion and in the Nauvoo case, to destruction. So we are 0 for 4 on temple building. By the time the capstone was laid, the entire city of Nauvoo, not only the temple and its proposed university, were all virtually abandoned.[12] Its former inhabitants, who sacrificed so much for its development and its construction and finally its completion, then left it and were spread across the plains of Iowa, seeking and singing of yet another home “Far away in the West, / Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid.”[13] Temple building and establishing Zion had not proven to be an easy or an entirely successful endeavor. That’s an understatement. Maybe it was simply too much to expect. Maybe it couldn’t be done. The costs were high, the fatigue was immense, and the sorrows were deep and lasting.

So, imagine wonder of these people who’ve just walked across the central plains of the United States of America on the mainland only two days after they’ve arrived, two days after they’re in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, President Brigham Young marched to a center site, stuck his cane in the ground and announced, “Here will be the Temple of our God.”[14] No one knew that it would take now nearly four million dollars in 19th-century currency[15] and 40 years to construct, but they did know what they had just been through in the Ohio, and Missouri, and Illinois.

Surely there must have been at least a few in the congregation who heard that announcement that day, and from the memory of those earlier experiences where it was simply too fresh and too painful, were feeling some resistance. “Why spend the time and the money, and the tears and the labor to build another temple that we’re going to have to abandon? Surely this is too much to ask. That’s all they knew and it’s what they expected. Surely their sacrifice was too great to ask after so much. Such a gesture can’t be this important to the Lord.”

I don’t know whether people actually said that or not. But I am guessing that they had to at least felt it and perhaps there were some who said it. We can’t know, but presuming that a few may have been so troubled and so weary, President Brigham Young anticipated that and said on that day on that spot:

“Some will inquire, ‘Do you suppose we will finish this temple, Brother Brigham!’ I have had such questions put to me already. My answer is, I do not know, and I do not care. . . I have never cared but for one thing, and that is, simply to know that I am now right before my Father in Heaven. If I am this moment, this day, doing the things God requires of my hands, and precisely where my Father in Heaven wants me to be, I care no more about tomorrow than though it never would come. I do not know where I shall be tomorrow, nor do I know when this temple will be done. . . .

“This I do know―there should be a temple built here. I do know it is the duty of this people to commence to build a temple.”[16]

I have traced that little bit of history for you today primarily to capture that concluding singular declaration by the remarkable Brigham Young. Some things he didn’t know, lot of things he didn’t know, and about some of the things he did know, he didn’t care. He didn’t know exactly when the building of the Salt Lake Temple would be completed, he couldn’t anticipate that at least once and really more towards once and a half it would be stopped and started over, not anticipating the arrival of Johnston’s Army and a number of other things that would soon be coming, nor the railroad that would bring the world to the Saints, even as the Saints were trying to escape the world. He couldn’t have known any of that when he made that stirring declaration. Nor did he know he would die 15 years before the Salt Lake Temple would be completed. But he knew God intended that he and the Saints start the task, undertake the obligation—that they should begin and they should be faithful and they should be true, even if they could not see the end from the beginning. His concern was not with future vindication, his concern was with present duty. “I have never cared but for one thing,” he said, “and that is simply to know that I am now right before my Father in Heaven. If I am this moment, this day, doing the things God requires of my hands, and precisely where [He] wants me to be, I care no more about tomorrow than though it never would come.”[17] He knew that the journey of a thousand miles, or ten thousand miles, begins with one step, and he put his shovel in the ground to once again build an anchor to the city of Zion. This same diligence and attitude was needed for the Laie Hawaii Temple—that journey which started in 1864 when the impression came to build a temple in Laie, then progressed the dream to 1865 and the buying of the property that we know on the North Shore, on to 1900 when President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency prophesied a temple, coming toward the ultimate destination of 1915 when President Joseph F. Smith actually dedicated a temple site. Of that dedicatory prayer Elder Reed Smoot, who was present on that occasion, said:

“I have heard President Smith pray hundreds of times. He has thrilled my soul many times with his wonderful spirit of prayer and his supplications to our [H]eavenly Father. But never in all my life did I hear such a prayer. The very ground seemed to be sacred, and he seemed as if he were talking face to face with the Father. I cannot and never will forget it if I live a thousand years.”[18]

Six months later, on January 16, 1916, crews began construction. In two years of incredible industry, the interior of our temple was complete. By November of that year, pneumonia took President Smith’s life, but President Heber J. Grant, new Prophet of the Church, continued the work without interruption.

Finally, on November 27, 1919, we are a month away from that centennial moment, President Grant dedicated the Laie Temple during a four-hour session on Thanksgiving Day. “Four additional dedicatory sessions were held [for the benefit of] more than 1,200 additional Saints who wanted to attend.”[19]

Well, now let’s suspend that in midair and shift from the history of Zion with its temple to Zion with its university. That history of faith and that spirit of determination and courage that built temples seem very much the same as you are experiencing at BYU–Hawaii right now academically. For that matter, it is the faith and determination and courage that has marked the history of this school from its inception as a Church school to today. It is interesting to me that President McKay observed the children of the little mission school that was in operation less than two years after the temple was dedicated (that was from 1019 with President Grant to President McKay in 1921) and then he returns to Salt Lake City to recommend that a Latter-day Saint college in effect be founded in Laie. Exactly 34 years later, things sometimes move slowly at headquarters, that same David O. McKay, now “President McKay,” presided at the groundbreaking for the Church College of Hawaii. But you have had many new and bright chapters in your history since those beginnings in 1955 when classes began in war surplus buildings with 153 students.[20] Every year you undertake your own inspired journey to educate Hawaiians, South Pacific islanders, Asians, an increasing number of international students from everywhere else around the globe, and, yes, even a few haoles from the mainland. Your history has been challenging, even harrowing in some decades, giving you a taste of Kirtland and Jackson County and Nauvoo along the way. But here you are, and your success is as obvious as your tenacity. Not every aspect of the future is clear, it never has been and it won’t be so long as we walk by faith, but everything about the BYU–Hawaii experiment, just as with everything about that temple that sits on the crest of the hill just to the west of us, is a declaration of faith, it’s a declaration of sacrifice, it’s a declaration of prophecy and purity and miracles. You have been at this long enough, however long you’ve been here, to know that what you are doing here will continue to require tremendous faith and divine direction if you and the school itself are to succeed as you and your Board of Trustees want it to succeed.

But what is so new about all this? The children of Israel have always undertaken quests, journeys if you will, that have required just such tremendous faith and just such divine direction. So, as the modern bearers of that covenant heritage, I ask you to believe in the virtues and values of the BYU–Hawaii experience. Indeed, I charge you to cherish what you are part of here, to think about its humble beginnings and the spirit of sacrifice that has made it what it is now. Think of your story over and over and over again, and to take it into the world wherever you go when you leave here—whether to Honolulu or Apia, Nuku’alofa or Auckland, Manila or Singapore, Seoul or Tokyo, or Taipei or San Francisco. I charge you to tell the story, tell the account of your experience in Zion wherever you go. Spread it far and wide that you were part of something pure and bold, where you were part of a living laboratory in global education and part of an experiment in Zion-like living, where your head and your heart were nurtured in a house of learning and a house of faith, both essential to the fulfillment of human destiny, as the children of God that we are. Tell your story in such a way that all who hear it will know your success was based on the doctrine of Christ, which is as old as time itself and as new as every freshman who enters this university and fosters his or her faith here. Declare that what you did at BYU–Hawaii mattered in the quest for a unique way to learn and ultimately a unique way to live, a way that combined reason and revelation, religion and reason, faith and intellect, exalting the whole woman and the whole man in the whole process. Testify to your friends and your neighbors, your employers and your employees, that you are still trying to be “right before your Father in Heaven, doing the things God requires at your hands, standing precisely where he wants you to be,”[21] that you’re doing at least in part because of what you saw and felt and experienced here between the polar institutions of a temple and a university. Think of Joseph, think of Brigham, think of Brigham Young University–Hawaii. In so doing please know that the future will roll into place for you, it will roll into place for your posterity just the way it has for other generations of Latter-day Saints who sought the Lord’s blessing from Europe and Asia, Latin America and Canada, Africa and America, and the islands of the sea. God bless you to be grateful as long as you live for the privilege you had to be here at this experimental station in the creation of a City of Zion. As the Prophet Joseph prayed at that first temple dedication in Kirtland, “Holy Father, we ask thee to assist us . . . with thy grace . . . that we may be found worthy, in thy sight, to secure a fulfillment of the promises which thou hast made unto us.”[22]

Be faithful. Stand steady. Be courageous. Don’t yield when difficult days come. Don’t falter when there’s a challenge to your faith. Believe in what God intends for you personally and as a graduate of this university. You are all a little anxious about your future, we all are, we all have been, but I implore you not to be overly anxious. God has a plan for you personally and the best thing you can do is trust Him and do your duty, and keep moving! If you will persevere throughout your life as you have begun in your degree programs here and if you be true to what Latter-day Saint temples and universities stand for—what Zion stands for—I promise you in the name of the Lord with apostolic authority and divine commission that your future is certain and it will take care of itself. Your future is very very bright indeed. As Brother Brigham would have said and has now said, so say I in conclusion:

“I do not know where I’ll be tomorrow, and I don’t know where you’ll be in each individual case, and I do not know when this [university experience will be fully realized or the university fully mature, fully developed, but] this I do know—there should be a [great university] here. I do know it is the duty of this people,” you people, to continue to build a university unto the Lord. [23] Then in a few years we can come back and mark the 100th anniversary of the university, just as we are saluting her sister institution, the holy temple this year. I plan to be around, I hope you’ll get me invitation. God bless you always in your house of learning and your house of faith. Both are ideal beacons in a mature city of Zion. Both are mature beacons in the holy city of God. Enjoy every bit of the light that comes from both institution, in this rarest one of only four places you can have that experience, in the sacred and holy and redeeming name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Susan W. Tanner, “Our Personal Temples,” in John S. Tanner and Susan W. Tanner, “A House of Learning, a House of Light” (Brigham Young University–Hawaii devotional), Sep. 10, 2019, available at https://devotional.byuh.edu/index.php/node/1791 .

[2] See Donald L. Enders, “Platting the City Beautiful: A Historical and Archaeological Glimpse of Nauvoo Streets,” BYU Studies 19, no. 3 (1979): 409–415.

[3] See Donald Q. Cannon, “Joseph Smith and the University of Nauvoo,” in Joseph Smith: the Prophet, the Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1993), 285–300, available at https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/joseph-smith-prophet-man/20-joseph-smith-and-university-nauvoo.

[4] Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom” The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (New York: 1877), 82, Archive.org, available at https://archive.org/details/womenofmormondom00tullrich/page/82.

[5] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Daniel H. Ludlow, et al., eds., (online edition, last modified May 27, 2011; original publication New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), “Kirtland Temple,” available at https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Kirtland_Temple.

[6] “Extracts from H. C. Kimball’s Journal,” Times and Seasons 6, no. 7 (April 15, 1845), 867.

[7] Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball: An Apostle; the Father and Founder of the British Mission (Salt Lake City: Kimball Family, 1888), 80, Archive.org, available at https://archive.org/details/LifeOfHeberC.Kimball/page/n89.

[8] See Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018), 221, available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/ldsorg/media-library/ebook-pdf/Saints-v1-English-PD60001624.pdf?lang=eng.

[9] Doctrine and Covenants 109:5.

[10] See Saints, vol. 1, 298–299, available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/ldsorg/media-library/ebook-pdf/Saints-v1-English-PD60001624.pdf?lang=eng.

[11] See Saints, vol. 1, 425, available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/ldsorg/media-library/ebook-pdf/Saints-v1-English-PD60001624.pdf?lang=eng.; and “Nauvoo Temple,” Church History Topics, available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/nauvoo-temple?lang=eng.

[12] “Nauvoo Temple,” Church History Topics, available at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/nauvoo-temple?lang=eng.

[13] “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, no. 30.

[14] “Pioneers’ Day,” Deseret Evening News, Jul 26, 1889, 2. See also “Early Utah and the Plains,” Deseret Weekly 1, no. 16 (Apr. 6, 1895) 498.

[15] George Reynolds, secretary to the First Presidency, estimated the cost of the Salt Lake Temple to be $3,469,118. See “Cost of the Salt Lake Temple,” Deseret News Weekly (March 23, 1895), 425.

[16] Brigham Young, Apr. 6, 1853, in “Minutes of the General Conference,” Deseret News, Apr. 30, 1853, 2.

[17] Brigham Young, Apr. 6, 1853, in “Minutes of the General Conference,” Deseret News, Apr. 30, 1853, 2.

[18] Reed Smoot, in Conference Report, Oct. 1920, 136, Archive.org, available at https://archive.org/details/conferencereport1920sa/page/n137. See also “Laie Temple History Timeline,” Laie Temple 100, available at https://laietemple100.org/laie-temple-history/.

[19] “Laie Temple History Timeline,” Laie Temple 100, available at https://laietemple100.org/laie-temple-history/.

[20] “Brief History,” BYU–Hawaii, available at https://about.byuh.edu/brief_history.html.

[21] Brigham Young, Apr. 6, 1853, in “Minutes of the General Conference,” Deseret News, Apr. 30, 1853, 2.

[22] Doctrine and Covenants 109:10–11.

[23] Brigham Young, Apr. 6, 1853, in “Minutes of the General Conference,” Deseret News, Apr. 30, 1853, 2.