Home / Testimonies / R.J. Head

Four religious beliefs matter to me and constitute what Mormons would call a “testimony.” They are:

1. There is a benevolent God.

It is not hard for me to believe in an all-powerful Creator, Professor Hawking’s recent statements notwithstanding. But, faced with the cold suffering that seems to characterise much of sentient existence, it is not enough for me to believe in Creation per se—after all, an omnipotent demon could be a Creator—but in a Creation that ultimately serves the human good. God lives, but more importantly, he loves me, by which I mean that he is interested in my eternal welfare, the sixty trillion plus other sentient lifeforms vying for his attention notwithstanding. This is the miracle of God’s benevolence and is as real to me, through experience, as the summer evening sun on my face.

2. The condescension of God saves me.

As I get older, I am coming to terms with my essentially sinful nature. I am not looking for a way to excuse my sins, but find repentance to be a blessing and not an embarrassing by-product of shameful imperfection. That the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—God, Son—somehow puts my life in balance is for me a very enlivening belief. I have had it since I was sixteen and first prayed to know Jesus.

3. Love man to love God.

The grand key of Christianity is to see other people as if they were God, treat them accordingly, and thus change our natural spite and greed into love. Love, exemplified in Jesus, saves us in the end. It may sound a little trite but it’s not. It’s also the point of what Mormons call “consecration,” I think, the pinnacle of the Christian life. Which brings me to the final pillar of my testimony:

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the vehicle through which I and my family can make saving covenants with God.

The Mormon Church is “true” in the sense that it offers what it claims to offer. I do not think it is “true” solely because Gospel Principles says the right things about God. Instead, it is true because the Restoration offers the means to change lives, through Christ. The church, particularly the temple, encourages me, through sacred and powerful covenants, to live a Christian life. This binds me to Christ, who binds me to God.

This binding is a wonderfully Mormon notion. How it relates both to our selves and to our families can be illustrated by the following story:

A few months ago my family visited Picardy in northern France. From the cathedral city of Amiens we drove to Albert and entered a rolling countryside so beautiful now but so full of blood and horror almost a century ago. Despite our distance from the First World War, “Somme” still invokes a feeling of dread in the British, images of trenches and mud and mutilated bodies passed to us through a vivid national memory. We were not there but somehow we know it was uniquely awful.

We stopped at the British cemetery-memorial in Pozières to find the name of my wife’s great-grand-uncle, Herbert Kirkby. Herbert was born in Portsmouth, England in 1893 and was killed in action on the 31st of March, 1918, as a member of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade. Like so many others, he has no known grave.

My sons found his name on the memorial. We paused in remembrance and took a picture which I then texted to my mother-in-law back in England. Within five minutes she replied: “At the Preston temple doing Herbert’s work.”

Hearts turned to the fathers. I do not know how Herbert died nor how he felt as the life ebbed from his young body, but I can imagine that he might have felt dreadfully alone, abandoned by the world and miles from anything resembling home. Across the miles and years, we felt to tell Herbert that he was remembered to us and not only that, but that we were ready to claim him as our own among the teeming, anonymous masses of the dead. Standing on a sacred bridge of place (the Somme and Preston) and time (1918 and 2010), we cried and rejoiced as one more part of the family of man found its way home, together.

This is the essence of Mormonism: relationships now and eternal, not because they are nice but because they are somehow essential. I have an inkling that this binding, this sealing, is necessary because it encourages the dead to stay together at a time when, with the immensity of eternity before us, we may feel drawn to leave our earthly relationships behind. Writ eternal, it overcomes the danger symbolised by the childhood friendships we once thought would last forever but now no longer care about. The temple has given us a reason to find Herbert, and he us.

This Mormon notion of sealing is, of course, nothing without the atonement of Jesus and the Restoration of the Gospel, of which I happily testify.

————————————————–

R.J. Head teaches religion and philosophy at a private boys’ school in the English Midlands and is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University and a Research Associate at BYU Studies. After serving in the Austria Vienna Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he attended the University of Birmingham in England where he graduated with first class honours in Ancient History. He also has an MPhil in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford and a PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the Johns Hopkins University.

His academic research is focused on religion and ethics in general, and biblical and ancient Near Eastern legal history in particular. His dissertation looked at the question of slavery in the Neo-Babylonian period and he is a trained Assyriologist. Recent publications include articles on the Bisitun inscription of Darius the Great, the politics of food in the Amarna period, and a legal history of Babylonian slavery. He is an editor of a new project to create an online database of ancient law collections.

In the field of Mormon Studies he helps organise the European Mormon Studies Association, serves as international editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and was a FARMS Nibley Fellow during his graduate studies. He has published in the FARMS Review, the International Journal of Mormon Studies, Dialogue, Element, and Mormon Historical Studies. He writes for the Mormon blog By Common Consent.

Head lives in England with his wife and three children and is a member of the bishopric in his local ward.

Posted November 2010