Home / Testimonies / James W. Ogilvie

From my earliest recollections, our family had attended various denominational churches. Once baptized by sprinkling, my family was informed by another denomination that baptism by immersion was the only correct method and I was subsequently re-baptized. No mention was made concerning how an individual obtained the authority to perform baptism in the first place, an issue of considerable importance in the New Testament.

As I entered my teenage years I began to question the confusing and opposing doctrines of orthodox Christianity, such as the politically motivated historicity of the Trinitarian doctrine and the Council of Nicaea, the absence of New Testament practices in present day religions, and the general confusion manifested in modern rhetorical theology. I commented to my minister that if the present day churches were the footprints of God, I had no intellectually honest position other than agnosticism.

In high school I had become acquainted with several Latter-day Saints. I was impressed with their doctrinally based practices and the manner in which they conducted their lives. Their avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, the practice of sexual morality, honesty, compassionate service, observance of the Sabbath day, the importance of family relationships, and many other practices were consistent with my understanding of a practicing Christian. They were indeed letting their light shine. That “light,” I was to learn, had a more profound origin than simple practical observances.

It was as a freshman cadet at the United State Air Force Academy that I began to understand the doctrinal basis for the Latter-day Saint religion. Many things were intuitively true—e.g, the apostasy from the original teachings of Christ; the need to have a restoration of the doctrines and practices as taught by Christ rather than a stochastic reformation, be it Protestant or Jesuit; the concept of present day communication with God through the Holy Ghost; and the universality of allowing all those who have lived on earth to hear and accept the doctrines of Christ. When I asked my minister about these doctrines he was dismissive, insulting, and utterly unable to offer a rational alternative.

Following my baptism into the LDS Church I have grown in my appreciation of the profound richness of its doctrine. The Book of Mormon’s clarity on doctrinal issues such as the central role of the atonement of Christ, an understanding of baptism and clarification regarding infant baptism, the compassion shown by Jesus in teaching the doctrines of salvation to those on the American continents, and the need for a living prophet to receive modern day instructions concerning God’s will, among other issues, have been great sources of strength.

Having resigned from the Air Force Academy to pursue a medical career, I attended Yale Medical School. The admonitions in the Word of Wisdom are intuitively obvious. While I understood that a deeper knowledge of Christian doctrine could only be obtained through the mediation of the Holy Ghost, it was most rewarding to have a scientifically sound confirmation that revealed truth could also be scholarly.

My professional career has been a composite of patient care, medical education, and basic research in genetics and biomechanics. Occasionally my colleagues have been respectful but skeptical of the tenets of Christianity in general and the Latter-day Saints in particular. I have not found that skepticism to be sustainable. Christ’s measured distinction and respect for spiritual and scientific methodologies was clear. He respected a doubting Thomas’s need to empirically confirm the resurrection, but He also acknowledged that a durable understanding that Christ is our savior comes only through divine confirmation of the Holy Ghost.

To avoid the seemingly contradictory realms of science and faith, the late Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould noted that these must be “non-overlapping magisteria.” To wit, science should not comment on faith and faith should not comment on science. This has been historically true, as exemplified by the burning at the stake of the heliocentric minded Giordano Bruno, the persecution of Galileo, and more recently the famous Scopes evolution trial. I have come to a personal appreciation of this distinction and it has been a personal guide.

There has been a profound influence of Christ’s teaching in my personal life. It has guided my relationship with my wife and children and humanity in general. The opportunity of making covenants with my family in the temple has given even greater meaning to the concept of eternal relationships. Through the temple those same blessings are also available to all of the human family, not just those who have been privileged to live in the past several millennia.

The clarity of Christian doctrine that is present with the restoration of the gospel in the latter days, beginning with the prophet Joseph Smith, continues to inspire and uplift my life. It is both elegant and simple and I know of its truth through the witness of the Spirit. There is a personal God, we are His offspring, and Jesus Christ is our savior. My personal journey of faith has just begun.


James W. Ogilvie is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Dr. Ogilvie earned his medical degree at Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, and completed a surgical internship at the University of California, San Francisco. His residency education in orthopaedic surgery was performed at the University of Utah. Dr. Ogilvie advanced his skills and experience through a Spine Fellowship at Rush Presbyterian / St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago.

He is an active member of such organizations as the Academic Orthopaedic Society, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Scoliosis Research Society (of which he is a past president), and the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons. Dr. Ogilvie also served as a Commander in the United States Naval Reserve. As a researcher and a prolific author, Dr. Ogilvie has held editorship roles with scientific periodicals including the Spine Journal, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Journal of Military Medicine, and Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Posted October 2010